Care for dementia patients slammed
GPs believe dementia patients are being failed by health and social care services, with many saying they do not feel they have had sufficient training to deal with people with the condition themselves.
A poll of GPs by the Alzheimer's Society found three quarters believe their patients are forced to depend on their families, friends, neighbours and other unpaid carers for support because they do not receive it from the authorities.
Three in five GPs (61%) say lack of cooperation between the NHS and social care acts as a barrier to patients getting support, while many (73%) also think patients, families and carers are left confused by the health and social care system.
The survey also suggests patients' lack of access to services may be undermining a national drive to improve rates of dementia diagnosis, with more than a quarter of GPs (27%) admitting they would be less likely to refer people with suspected dementia for diagnosis if support services are not in place.
The charity said the poll of more than 1,000 UK GPs demonstrates how hundreds of thousands of people are being let down, and called for the Government to ensure that everyone diagnosed with dementia is entitled to a full package of support including a Dementia Adviser.
It also wants to see better help and support available for carers, with a single point of contact available to help them navigate the health and social care system.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer's Society, said: "Our survey gives a stark view from the doctor's surgery of people with dementia left struggling in the aftermath of a diagnosis.
"GPs report an endemic and deeply worrying lack of support available from health and social services, with relatives left to pick up the pieces alone.
"People can need a lot of help to live well with dementia. Families and friends are a vital source of support but they mustn't be relied on to do everything. As dementia takes hold, people with dementia and their carers look to statutory services to give them the back-up they desperately need to cope.
"With the number of people with dementia expected to grow to one million by 2021, there is no time to waste. Today's findings reinforce the urgency of putting in place meaningful care and support for all people with dementia."
One of the many people feeling desperate for help is Stephen Blakeburn, 50, from Darlington, County Durham.
He cares for his mother, Jenny, 86, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2010.
He said: " Since my mum was diagnosed with dementia, it's been a constant, all-consuming battle to get her the support she needs.
"We feel like we've been failed by a system which doesn't work for us. After two care assessments which led to nothing, I've been left with no option but to drastically cut down my hours at work so I can take care of her.
"I love my mum dearly and want to do everything I can to support her, but sometimes it gets too much and it's very overwhelming. I feel like my life is on hold.
"As well as financial assistance, I really just need someone to support us both by giving me some time off and respite for mum."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "To combat this devastating condition, dementia training has already been given to 600,000 NHS and social care staff, and our diagnosis rates are now amongst the highest in the world.
"After a diagnosis, we are already expanding access to named clinicians and dementia advisers to help patients and their families, and giving the option of personal budgets - and we want to see these things being offered across the NHS.
"The Prime Minister has set out a further challenge for all NHS and social care staff to be trained in order to provide meaningful care and support for people with dementia, their carers and their families."
Dr Richard Vautrey, the British Medical Association's GP committee deputy chair, said: "Difficulty in accessing social care support has become an everyday reality for GPs, patients and carers.
"Sadly it is not only the case for those diagnosed with dementia, but also affects the large number of people living with long term conditions or with frail elderly relatives.
"GPs are increasingly frustrated that due to excessive cuts to local authority funding, some of the most vulnerable people in our society are not receiving the level of care and support they deserve.
"The increasing emphasis on diagnosing dementia has not been matched with proper services for patients once they are diagnosed. With an ageing population, and the number of people with dementia set to grow significantly in the next five years, it is vital that sustainable care and support is urgently put in place to help provide the best possible care for those who need it."