A glimmer of hope for dementia sufferers thanks to IT

Just last week, health secretary, Jeremy Hunt announced that over 100 hospitals and care homes in England will be awarded a share of a £50million fund to create pioneering care environments designed for the needs of people with dementia. The health secretary also recently declared that a cure for dementia will be found in seven years.

While researching this blog, I came across a man called Thomas Whitelaw. Tommy was a full time carer to his mum Joan who was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Sadly Joan passed away in December last year. Since his mum’s passing, Tommy has devoted his time to campaigning to raise awareness of this cruel disease and highlight the tremendous work carried out by their carers.

I watched a heart-wrenching video produced by Tommy (WARNING…if you are feeling slightly emotional, I would avoid watching this short clip)! In the video Tommy highlights the shocking figures surrounding dementia:

  • There are currently 82,000 dementia sufferers across Scotland that we know about.
  • The numbers of people with dementia in Scotland are expected to double by 2036.
  • Over half of people in Scotland have/had a family member or a close friend with dementia.
  • One in six of the UK population can expect to reach the age of 100, if current trends continue, up to half of them will develop some form of dementia.

Another statistic in Tommy’s video that really demonstrated the impact that dementia is having on so many lives, is that one in four people would make a decision on what political party they would vote for based on that party’s policies on dementia!

Reading these shocking figures made me question …is the Government really doing enough about it? Awarding hospitals and care homes a share of a £50m fund and predicting a cure in the next seven years is great news, but is this realistic considering the current crisis the NHS finds itself in?

I find it incredible that over half of dementia sufferers go undiagnosed. Delayed or incorrect treatment of long-term conditions such as dementia is placing a huge strain on our NHS, with dementia estimated to cost the UK in excess of £19bn a year. Common sense tells me that the sooner a patient is correctly diagnosed, the sooner they can go on to an appropriate care pathway. Early diagnosis ultimately benefits the patient; it allows them access to treatment and to plan for their future. Not only will this improve their level of care, it will also save the NHS a considerable sum of money.

Up until now much of the focus for dementia in an IT context has been on telehealth, which can bring huge benefits to those who have already been diagnosed, however with such high figures relating to undiagnosed dementia sufferers, perhaps more resource needs to be put in place around IT that can actually support early diagnosis and ensure patients are being treated correctly.

There are providers of technology in the UK healthcare market that offer solutions that integrate with virtually any system, enabling healthcare professionals to record data that can improve the identification, and quality of care of dementia patients resulting in reduced lengths of stay, improved efficiency of discharges, fewer readmissions and inter-ward transfers.

Recently Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust became one of the first in the UK to exceed all its Commissioning Quality for Innovation (CQUIN) targets for dementia care, after implementing an electronic system, developed based on NICE guidelines, that supports NHS trusts with early diagnosis and improved care of patients with dementia.

Perhaps now is the time for the government to do more to encourage trusts to implement IT solutions that will ultimately increase the early identification, assessment and referral of people with dementia.

I guess for now we will have to watch this space and in the meantime hope that people just like Tommy continue to raise awareness.

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