This site is intended for health professionals only

NHS campaign seeks ‘cultural shift’ among GPs on earlier diagnosis

A national campaign this year will achieve a ‘cultural shift’ among GPs, urging them to diagnose cancer and dementia earlier in older adults, says Public Health England.

The £12.2 million ‘healthy older adults’ programme will concentrate on patients aged 50 years or older in 2013/14 and aims to encourage them to present earlier to GPs when they have symptoms.

The scheme also aims to encourage GPs to ‘engage with the importance of early cancer and dementia diagnosis’ and integrate it into their daily practice.

The plans - included in Public Health England’s Marketing Plan published this week - is one of six programmes planned by the new body responsible for public health in England, and it comes despite concerns from medical experts that screening for dementia may do patients more harm than good.

Earlier this health secretary Jeremy Hunt said some GPs think diagnosing dementia is ‘pointless’ and that it will not make a difference, but that this is a ‘misconception’ that he wants to change.

Public Health England said said dementia already costs the UK economy £17 billion a year and that in the next 30 years those costs are set to treble to over £50 billion a year.

The new body said it wanted to drive ‘a cultural shift in the NHS, making primary healthcare professionals aware of, and engaged with the importance of early cancer and dementia diagnosis and integrating it into their interactions with patients, their professional development and their use of referral pathways and diagnostic tests.’

Another aim for the programme was: ‘Encouraging our target audience to present to health professionals with the relatively minor but persistent symptoms that could be signs of early stage serious illness, and to express their concerns clearly and with confidence’

However the news comes as a leading dementia academic has become the latest to warn that the stigma and anxiety caused by being diagnosed with early dementia - long before symptoms are apparent - greatly outweigh any benefits.

Dr Chris Fox, who is a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia, has called for plans for dementia screening - that are set to be rolled out to GP practices this year through the dementia case-finding DES - to be put on hold indefinitely, until the risk of misdiagnosis is diminisged and better therapies are available.

Speaking at the TEDMEDLive healthcare conference in Bristol today, Dr Fox said: ‘At the moment, anyone receiving an early prognosis would receive little more than some medical advice and perhaps some medication that may alleviate certain symptoms for a limited period.

‘It is unfair to cause fear and concern when treatments are not available, the chances of the condition actually progressing are not clear, and when symptoms may never take hold in the patient’s lifetime.

‘The problem is that a diagnosis can turn someone’s life upside down years before dementia itself does.’