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New dementia report says more support needed

May 26, 2021, 00:00 AM by RCPsych Digital Team
RCPsych calls for urgent action so that Old Age Psychiatry services can respond quickly to the introduction of a new dementia treatment.

Joint research published today highlights significant gaps in support that Old Age psychiatrists need to effectively diagnose people with Alzheimer’s Disease at an early stage and deliver future treatments to those living with the condition.  

Dementia is one of the UK’s greatest healthcare challenges. There are almost one million people living with the condition in the UK. With an ageing population and no treatments to delay the onset or reduce the progression of diseases that cause dementia, this number is set to rise to 1.3 million by 2030.  

The report, from Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Royal College of Psychiatrists Are we ready to deliver disease modifying treatments? published today (26 May 2021), finds that specialists are keen to embrace the arrival of new dementia drug treatments, but need much more support in order to effectively implement them into their clinical practices. 

Over 500 old age psychiatrists contributed to the report which shows that services are not ready to deliver disease modifying treatments for Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia:  

  • 36% of psychiatrists thought their services could adapt to deliver disease modifying treatments within a year 
  • 6% of psychiatry services are able to fully meet the NICE guidelines regarding accessing further biomarker and diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease. 

Dr Mani Santhana Krishnan of Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:  

“Early accurate diagnosis plays a vital role in the treatment of Dementia. It’s important that psychiatrists are given access to the diagnostic tools and the training to help reduce the progression of this debilitating illness by way of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease even before developing dementia. 
“We need to work collaboratively with NHS across the country to ensure that we continue to improve care for the 1 million people living with the dementia, as well as supporting their loved ones. We’re seeing pockets of variability in accessing the right specialised diagnostic tools. This needs addressing as this report has highlighted.” 

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: 

“Our vision is to deliver breakthroughs that will change the lives of people living with dementia. Improving diagnostic services now is vital to ensure we can offer earlier diagnosis and making sure that breakthrough treatments can be made available within the NHS are core to that vision.  
“We need to work towards a long-term ambition of having a health system where everyone can find out if they have dementia at the earliest stage and have access to the appropriate treatments that could slow its progression. Failure to deliver an ambitious and transformative plan for diagnosis will be a huge, missed opportunity that will impact people affected by dementia for decades to come. 
“These reports greatly add to our understanding of the challenges and opportunities that psychiatrists and the health system are facing working. It’s now vital that we work together to create the environment where these dedicated health professionals have the full range of diagnostics for clinical use.”  

Dr Jonathan Schott, Chief Medical Officer at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:  

“We recognise that it can be difficult to make the case for diagnosing the diseases that cause dementia when there are currently not treatments available to delay or slow progression. However, we need to break this vicious cycle and accept that current diagnostic services are not good enough for patients. By improving access to a range of diagnostic techniques across the UK through investment and skills development we can start to develop the services we need now and in the future."   

Alzheimer's Research UK believes that the challenges identified in these two reports can be addressed with investment to increase and enhance capacity, infrastructure and clinical skills. 

The NHS should dedicate specific funding to increasing diagnostic infrastructure and improving equity of access. 

The NHS should work with key organisations to commission a clinical pathway that would allow people to access future disease-modifying treatments. 

This would need: 

  • A cross-speciality approach to support multidisciplinary working. 
  • Development of new clinical pathways to ensure the equitable delivery of new treatments. 
  • The delivery of ongoing training and professional development to ensure the NHS is ready for the changes in clinical practice required to deliver disease-modifying treatments. 
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