MP Sammy Wilson has welcomed an assurance from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust about the steps being taken to improve the diagnosis of people suffering from dementia.
The East Antrim DUP representative, who has experienced the pressure having a close relative suffering from dementia can put on a family, has expressed concern that the trust has the lowest dementia diagnosis rate in the Province – 52.5 per cent as opposed to a regional rate of 63 per cent.
“Not having a diagnosis has serious consequences for a person with dementia and those close to them, because they do not get support, or information and the care that makes it possible to live with dementia and to plan for the future,” said Mr Wilson.
“There are many reasons why people are not diagnosed. Sometimes it is because carers feel like there is some stigma attached to a diagnosis and therefore do not seek to have their loved one diagnosed. Sometimes it is due to the fact that they have to present themselves a number of times to their GP before a referral is made to the Trust for further investigation.
“It is also partly due to the fact that there is now greater pressure on Trust resources, as people are living longer and that increases the number of people presenting with dementia and in some instances, even though people are in residential care homes, the home managers themselves do not even contact the Trust for a diagnosis,” he claimed.
Mr Wilson said: “I welcome the fact that the Trust is now seeking to put more information out to people so that they understand the benefits of diagnosis and how they can go about it.
“Secondly, the Trust has promised to work with GPs to develop appropriate special training to help GPs recognise early changes in behaviour that may result in dementia. Thirdly, the Trust has promised that no one should have to wait for more than nine weeks before they are diagnosed and have put some more resources into dealing with dementia at primary care level.
“Lastly, they have promised they will work with home managers to address the fact that some homes are not referring residents for diagnosis.”
Mr Wilson said the patchy nature of diagnosis is worrying, revealing that people living in the Belfast Trust area have a 50 per cent better chance of being diagnosed at an early stage than those in the Northern Trust area.
“Apart from my personal experience, on a regular basis I have people coming into my advice centre who are at their wits’ end because of the deterioration in the health and behaviour of their loved ones due to Alzheimer’s and it is incumbent on health boards to take appropriate actions to support people in this situation.
“According to the latest figures that I have, there are 2,500 people in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust area, many of them in East Antrim, and across Northern Ireland there are just over 7,000 people who were without diagnosis in 2013 and therefore are below the radar when it comes to the support and care that could be made available to them,” the MP stated.