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Opinion - Dementa

The ‘postcode lottery’ of access to high quality dementia care

As cases of dementia rise, talk of new measures to support those living with it increases.

David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt now regularly speak about increasing funding for dementia, with new initiatives such as the “Dementia Friends” scheme being widely promoted.

Of course we welcome any efforts to raise awareness of the challenges of living with dementia but, despite these high profile commitments, we still don’t see funding being cascaded down to a local level to support existing specialist and dedicated resources.

Admiral Nurses are senior mental health nurses specialising in dementia who support families from diagnosis to end of life care. They provide family and professional carers with the tools and skills to best understand and cope with the realities and challenges of dementia. They offer specialist support that is crucial to people who receive this heart-breaking diagnosis.

Admiral Nurses also join up the different parts of the health and social care system and enable the needs of family carers and people with dementia to be addressed in a co-ordinated way.

Shocking figures show that there is now a “postcode lottery” for access to Admiral Nurses. There are only 102 Admiral Nurses, and an estimated 800,000 people diagnosed with dementia in the UK. This means there is a one in 7000 chance of having access to this vital service and in some parts of the country there are no local Admiral Nursing services at all.

Dementia UK is committed to providing more Admiral Nurses but is frustrated by the challenges of raising funds to do so. We continue to meet major obstacles in setting up new services as well as maintaining existing ones, and face a constant battle for funding which is exacerbated by uncertainty within the health system and unwillingness to invest in new services.

If Admiral Nurses were based within GP surgeries, for example, practice based staff would have specialist expertise on hand to refer to for questions or uncertainties about patients, and a resource to draw on for family members worried about someone’s memory problems and behaviour. Families would also have personal contact, emotional and practical support right from the start of their dementia journey.

If we are to increase access to Admiral Nurses across the whole of the UK, we need support. This week sees the start of our Time for a Cuppa campaign; an annual, week-long, mass participation fundraising event, where people across the country are encouraged to get together to hold a tea party - either at home, in the workplace or in the community. All funds raised go towards providing more Admiral Nurses.  

At Dementia UK, we believe that Admiral Nurses are the lifeline that family carers want and need, and are deeply concerned about the wide variations of access to the high-quality care they provide. In places where they are not widely available, family carers are left to navigate a confusing health and social care system without any expert guidance.

Time for a Cuppa week this year runs from 1st – 8th March and we would urge everyone to visit www.timeforacuppa.org and offer whatever support they can.

Joanna Westley is Head of Fundraising & Communications at Dementia UK

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