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GPs are 'a barrier' to dementia diagnosis

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People with dementia, and those that care for them, see GPs as barriers to receiving a diagnosis, a parliamentary report has found.

Unlocking diagnosis: The key to improving the lives of people with dementia, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, said carers and people with dementia 'largely saw primary care, and particularly GPs, as barriers to a diagnosis rather than gatekeepers'.

The report pointed to a 2007 National Audit Office report, which found the attitude of England's GPs could prevent or delay early diagnosis. 'Common perceptions, such as that there is little support for people with dementia, can discourage GPs from referring people,' the report said.

It added that nurse and GP dementia training should be extended, and said better screening methods to help them identify patients were needed.

'The group received evidence that all "generalist" health professionals, such as GPs, geriatricians, wider primary care teams, ward nurses and care assistants, who are involved in the general care of people with dementia, needed more specific training on dementia and dementia diagnosis,' the report found.

Dementia UK claims that increasing the number of specialist dementia nurses, or Admiral Nurses, based within primary care and, specifically, general practice would make 'a huge difference' to diagnosis rates.

London Admiral Nurse Ian Weatherhead said: 'Having a dementia specialist in the GP practice can not only help educate and support other health professionals in increasing their awareness of dementia symptoms when patients visit, but they are also best placed to support the family, discuss fears, take through the diagnostic journey and provide essential post-diagnostic advice.'

The report found that older people with memory problems often believed it is an unavoidable part of ageing, and did address the problem. It also said that national variances in diagnosis rates were 'shocking'.

'In Belfast, 70 per cent of people receive a diagnosis, but in parts of Wales this figure is less than 40 per cent. Even in areas with the highest rates more than a quarter of people with dementia are living in the dark without a formal diagnosis.'

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