Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How NHS betrayed Alzheimer's patients: A third of services are slashed

The scandal of widespread cutbacks in NHS care affecting thousands of Alzheimer's patients is exposed today. Almost one in three health trusts admits axing vital services such as district nurses and day centres, leaving desperate families to struggle alone. Fewer than half are running clinics to spot early signs of Alzheimer's despite soaring numbers of patients. And, most damningly, two in five trusts fail to provide any dementia services at all.

The disturbing findings are unveiled as the Daily Mail launches Action on Alzheimer's, our Christmas appeal to raise funds for those with this devastating disease and other dementia conditions. Celebrities including Sir Cliff Richard and broadcaster Angela Rippon have given their heartfelt support to the campaign.

The findings on NHS care, from a survey carried out for the Alzheimer's Society, shows that help has never been more needed. Around 700,000 people have dementia in Britain, costing the nation 17billion pounds a year. This number is on course to reach a million by 2025 as the population ages, according to official estimates.

Best-selling author Terry Pratchett, who was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia last year, recently warned Prime Minister Gordon Brown that Britain faces a 'tsunami of Alzheimer's' unless more funding for a cure is found.

Given the scale of the emergency, 98 per cent of primary care trusts insist dementia is one of their top priorities. Yet the survey carried out for the Alzheimer's Society by GP magazine lays bare the reality for thousands of sufferers and their families. It shows services may be getting worse - not better - despite the NHS budget doubling to almost 100billion a year and a new dementia strategy for healthcare staff.

Results from Freedom of Information requests found 30 per cent of primary care trusts have closed or downgraded dementia services in the past three years. This includes slashing the number of district nurses providing support for those with the disease, or closing day centres for Alzheimer's sufferers. An astonishing 40 per cent of trusts admitted they did not provide any specific dementia service at all. Forty-one per cent said they had no early detection services or clinics. The figures could be far worse because only 57 out of England's 152 primary care trusts responded to the survey. Campaigners fear those who did not reply had even worse services.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: 'The NHS is completely failing to face to the fact that we have a serious issue here, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of the terrible impact of dementia on an increasing number of sufferers or their families. 'If we were talking about cuts to services for another disease, such as cancer, there would be a national outcry, and the NHS would not be able to get away with it.

'What we need the NHS to do is to detect the signs of dementia, diagnose it early, break the news properly and offer sources of help. That is not happening. 'Patients have told us that early diagnosis helps them make plans and get support in place before things get really bad. 'Services have always been patchy across the NHS but to hear PCTs are cutting them back is too much.'


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