A charity leader has said more needs to be done to promote dementia care as a valuable career for nurses, as new figures reveal the number of people diagnosed with the condition has risen by 6% in three years.
Paul Edwards, clinical director at Dementia UK, described recruitment as one of the key challenges facing the charity’s Admiral Nurse programme as demand for specialist support continues to grow.
“We just don’t have the numbers of people in nursing coming into dementia care”
Latest statistics from NHS Digital show in July this year that 456,656 people in England had a recorded diagnosis of dementia, compared with 449,572 in July 2017 and 431,081 in the same month in 2016.
Mr Edwards said there were probably many more people living with the condition without a diagnosis and made it clear that the prevalence would rise further as the population got older.
Dementia is highly associated with ageing and, according to the Office of National Statistics, there are likely to be an additional 8.6 million people aged 65 or over in the UK in 50 years’ time.
Dementia UK currently has around 250 Admiral nurses working in the community, care homes, hospitals and hospices to support people living with the condition and their families.
Mr Edwards said the service was already growing fast but “nowhere near enough for the demand”, highlighting struggles around nurse recruitment.
“We want more people to come and work in it – it isn’t some kind of backwater for nursing practice”
He said: “There are some brilliant, amazing nurses in dementia care but if you compare that with oncology, cancer care or diabetes care we just don’t have the numbers of people in nursing coming into dementia care. That’s across the board and, of course, that feeds into us.
“When we want to find people who are willing to go on and develop dementia care as a specialism into Admiral nursing that’s also a challenge – not helped by the chronic challenges we have got in nursing more generally around recruitment and retention,” he added.
Mr Edwards said he spent a lot of time talking to student nurses and he usually found only two or three in a room of 130 would be interested in pursuing a career in dementia care.
He said this particular field of nursing had a “PR problem” and called for more to be done to raise its profile.
Outlining why nurses are best placed to lead on dementia care, Mr Edwards said: “It is bread and butter to nurses to work with complexity and humanity at the same time, which is fundamentally at our core as a profession and I think for me that’s what you do when you work in dementia care.
“What you are always trying to do is build greater levels of holistic, person-centred approaches within a really complex care environment which dementia care can be and I think nurses have never backed away from that challenge and they shouldn’t,” he said.
He added: “Dementia care nursing is just one of the best areas to be in nursing practice and we want more people to come and work in it – it isn’t some kind of backwater for nursing practice in fact it’s quite the opposite.”
“Fundamentally we are just not geared up for an ageing society with dementia”
Mr Edwards said dementia care was a financially “impoverished” area of the health system and labelled provision “fragmented” and “broken” with some families struggling to access support.
He said Admiral nurses were starting to plug gaps, but growth in the service was reliant on “host organisations”, both private and public, bringing them on board.
Dementia UK also runs a helpline so families who do not have an Admiral nurse in their area can still speak to one over the phone seven days a week.
The charity’s goal is for every patient and their family going through dementia to have access to an Admiral nurse. The scheme gets no statutory funding and relies on donations.
Mr Edwards said the nation had been unprepared for the unprecedented level demand for dementia care and wants to see reformative action taken.
He added: “Fundamentally we are just not geared up for an ageing society with dementia yet and someone needs to grab hold of that politically and as a society we need to redouble our efforts.”