A more streamlined approach to diagnosing dementia, which sees nurses given more responsibility for assessment and communication, has saved time and led to better continuity of care.
Dementia diagnosis in Cumbria is now four times faster thanks to the introduction of “virtual clinics”, according to the trust behind the initiative.
“Nurses carry out high level assessments, share knowledge and there is a much better outcome for the patient”
Staff in the Memory Matters team at Carleton Clinic Carlisle have been piloting virtual clinics since early in 2015, said Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
It noted that previously GP referrals went through a lengthy process that included being seen by a mental health nurse for assessment, the requesting of tests and brain scans, then sometimes a substantial wait for a follow up appointment with a psychiatrist.
Under the new system, referrals are screened and seen for a full assessment by a nurse, including elements previously done by a psychiatrist. A brain scan is also requested, together with other assessments with the patient and their family.
The nurse then presents the case “virtually” to a psychiatrist and other members of the Memory Matters team followed by an in-depth discussion, during which a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan is drawn up.
The diagnosis is usually given to the patient by the same nurse they have seen at the initial assessment, which makes the patient feel more comfortable, said the trust.
The virtual clinics have now been rolled out across Cumbria, resulting in the number of people being referred for diagnosis nearly doubling in the last year from 286 in 2014-15 to 526 in 2015-16.
Mental health nurses help streamline dementia diagnosis
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Darren Reynolds said: “More patients are seen in much less time. Nurses carry out high level assessments, share knowledge and there is a much better outcome for the patient.”
Helen Todd, senior nurse in the community mental health team, said: “Referrals have increased by almost 200% in the past 12 months and a diagnosis is now given four times quicker than previously.
“There is a much better use of resources within the team and no there was no need to recruit any extra staff so we are far more efficient,” she said.
“Now there are no waiting lists and patients are seen within 15 days,” she added.
The trust said local GPs had been “very positive” about the initiative, with some highlighting the consistency of nurse assessments as well as the time saved.