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An NHS ambassador aiming to help increase the diagnosis rate of people with dementia and provide the post diagnostic support is to meet 21 CCGs to help explore challenges to diagnosis.
By the end of January Dr Dan Harwood, Consultant Psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and a Dementia Ambassador for the London area for NHS England, will have met with 21 CCGs and advised them on how to overcome obstacles to diagnosis and how to improve care pathways.
Since October last year he has been working with GPs across London, which has the lowest diagnosis rate for dementia, and has already met with 18 CCGs.
Dr Harwood’s work is part of NHS England’s wider strategy to increase dementia diagnosis. In England, there are an estimated 683,000 people with dementia and currently about 365,000 are diagnosed.
NHS England, in parallel with the Prime Minister’s Challenge on dementia, has an ambition that two thirds of people with dementia will have a diagnosis and post diagnostic support by 2015. Two thirds is 455,000 which leaves a gap of 90,000 people who need to be identified.
Dr Harwood said: “Most of what I do is to encourage CCGs not to be overwhelmed. There are many simple and cost neutral actions CCGs can and should take to improve diagnosis rates and the care of people with dementia and their carers. These could include coding, supporting GPs to make diagnoses where they feel confident to do so, especially in care homes; work with memory services to make care pathways more streamlined, and start to raise awareness in hard to reach communities.
“Increasing the rate of dementia diagnosis is hugely important both for the health of the patient and also for our understanding of the condition. By giving a person and their carer a diagnosis we can give them back some control and they can feel empowered to get the right help, possibly to access medication, practical advice and social support, and also to plan for the future. The sooner we can do this the better.
“GPs rightly often highlight the barriers to increasing diagnosis rates but we want to provide them with the tools to overcome those barriers. It has been very enjoyable so far meeting with the CCGs as the majority fully understand our aims to help diagnose more patients and are open to our ideas which come from our knowledge of best practice from around the country.”
Dr Harwood is one of seven dementia ambassadors who, back in October, began spreading the word about the importance of diagnosing more people with dementia in a bid to help improve patients’ and their carers’ quality of life.
The ambassadors are all GPs or dementia specialists and Dr Harwood, who has experience in developing memory services and improving diagnosis rates, is able to use this and his day to day clinical work with people with dementia and their carers, to make sure the advice given is pragmatic and based on the needs of patients and carers.
He has also been encouraging CCGs in his area to work more closely with memory services to review their performance, identify and solve delays, due for example optimising the organisation of investigations, and plan the resourcing of teams on the basis of evidence from demand activity and capacity analysis.
A small group of GPs have also carried out coding exercises in their own areas and are supporting those CCGs performing less well with advice on how to carry out the coding.
This involves looking at the clinical records in primary and secondary care, and making sure people known to have memory problems, are identified and, depending on the circumstances, either placed on the GP Register or referred for assessment and post-diagnostic support.
All of the ambassadors are supporting CCGs to improve the numbers of people able to access a timely diagnosis of dementia and appropriate care.
Their work includes providing one to one support to CCGs, sharing learning and best practice, providing tools, resources and guidance.