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GPs to spearhead drive to increase dementia diagnosis rates as Government expands Health Checks programme

GPs are to spearhead a major Government drive to increase dementia diagnosis rates, by providing five-yearly checks on risk factors and referring patients to memory clinics.

The plans – revealed by the Prime Minister this week – will extend the Department of Health's NHS Health Checks programme to also cover dementia in patients aged 65 to 74 years.

The move is designed to help diagnose dementia earlier and decrease variation between diagnosis rates – which currently ranges from around 27% to 59% between different PCT areas.

GPs will be expected to identify risk factors for dementia - such as hypertension, alcohol and obesity – provide information on memory clinics and refer those in need of assessment.

From next month, hospitals will be given £54 million in England to assess over 75 year olds admitted to hospital to check for signs of dementia. A Department of Health spokesperson said there would be no new funding available for GPs, as it was simply a referral to another service.  

Speaking at the Dementia 2012 Conference, Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘At their usual five-yearly health check, as well as when they normally see their GP, those at risk will be referred on – just as they would be with a heart problem.'

‘Together with the RCGP we're working to send a message to every surgery and clinic in the country that this is to be taken very seriously.'

There will also be a nationwide dementia awareness-raising campaign from autumn 2012 to 2015, telling anyone who is worried about their memory, or someone they know, to see their GP.

A new indicator on dementia diagnosis will be included in the NHS Outcomes Framework, with clinical commissioning groups and health and wellbeing boards to be tasked with developing local action plans to improve local rates through this mechanism.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘We know that we need to do more to raise diagnosis rates for people with dementia, with an estimated 42% of people with dementia currently having a diagnosis.'

‘Only when the condition is diagnosed can people and their families and carers get the support they need to help them.'