Thousands of patients waiting for dementia diagnoses during Covid crisis
Experts have warned of backlogs of undiagnosed dementia cases and worsening standards of care after official figures revealed a collapse in assessing and monitoring patients in England during the pandemic.
NHS data shows the number of people who were assessed for dementia has fallen to less than half the level before the pandemic – 10,535 in February 2021 compared to 23,392 in February 2020.
In that time, the number of people receiving an initial memory assessment fell by two-thirds, while the number of referrals to memory clinics – which help diagnose dementia – fell by 42%.
Partly as a result, the total number of patients aged over 65 with a dementia diagnosis fell by just over 43,000 – a drop of 10%.
The pandemic has put huge strain on NHS staff and resources, often diverting them from other healthcare activities. The diagnostic backlog, when thousands of people waiting for diagnosis, is a very difficult time obviously for families and people with dementia, and the medical staff don’t know yet how the services are going to get those people through.
Care monitoring of dementia patients who have already been diagnosed has also fallen sharply. The number of dementia patients who had received a medication review in the previous 12 months fell 55% between February 2020 and February 2021. Meanwhile, in February 2021 just 37% of dementia patients had received a care plan or annual care plan review in the previous 12 months, compared with 73% in February 2020.
Gavin Terry, head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “People with dementia have been worst hit by the pandemic and their need for support has risen steeply as a result. But reduction in healthcare services has meant fewer people are getting a dementia diagnosis, so fewer care plans are being introduced, leaving people to struggle without the information and help they so desperately need.
“Now vaccines have been delivered to those in the highest priority groups, clinical commissioning groups must ensure care plan reviews [for people with dementia] are resumed as quickly and as safely as possible.”