£8bn a year spent on 'ineffective dementia care'

The Government's dementia strategy looks set to fail its 600,000 sufferers, because the condition has not been made a national priority despite costing more than heart disease, stroke and cancer combined.

As much as £8.2 billion is still being spent on ineffective dementia care every year, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) concludes today.

Up to two thirds of dementia sufferers still never receive a formal diagnosis of their condition because of stigma, negative attitudes of GPs and a lack of urgency attached to diagnosis, the report warned.

Dementia patients are being unnecessarily admitted to hospital, have longer lengths of stay and enter residential care prematurely because of a lack of specialist services to support them.

This is despite the ambitious promises of the first-ever national dementia strategy, which aimed to transform the care of the rising number of sufferers and their families, when it was launched in February last year with funding of £150m and the promise of a string of memory clinics and advisors across the country.

There is still no basic training in dementia for doctors, nurses and care home workers although almost all staff members will care for people with the illness at some point.

An estimated 600,000 people in England have dementia, but this is expected to double within 30 years.

Dementia costs the health and social care budget more than cancer, heart disease and strike combined - £15.9billion in 2009 but expected to more than double to £34.8billion by 2026.

The report warned that it was unclear whether the first £60 million for the strategy had even been spent on dementia. The money had been paid primary care trusts' main budgets and was not ring fenced so there was currently no information about what they had spent it on.

New research in the report finds that GPs knowledge of dementia had not improved in five years. Over half of GPs surveyed had not received adequate training and almost a third remain unconfident in diagnosing dementia. Only 21 per cent of consultants said a senior clinician had taken the lead for improving dementia in their hospital and only 15 per cent of psychiatrists reported that their primary care trust had invested extra funds into their service.

Fewer than two in five (19 per cent) consultant psychiatrists believe that the strategy will be successfully implemented within its five-year time scale.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: "The action however, has not so far matched the rhetoric in terms of urgency. At the moment this strategy lacks the mechanisms needed to bring about large scale improvements and without these mechanisms it is unlikely that the intended and much needed transformation of services will be delivered within the strategy's five year timeframe."

Andrew Ketteringham, Director of External Affairs of Alzheimer's Society said: "This influential report shows just how big the dementia crisis is. Change can't come soon enough for the millions of families battling daily with this devastating condition. The strategy will transform lives but only if local health authorities are compelled to give dementia the priority it deserves. Millions depend on the strategy succeeding. It's a race against time."

Edward Leigh, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, warned that "many of the same problems remain" despite the launch of the strategy.

He said: "Dementia has not been made a national priority. Without dedicated funding, good performance information, robust performance management and strong local leadership, services for people with dementia will not improve at the rate expected and the value for money of the £8.2 billion a year spent by the NHS and social care services on the condition remain poor."

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