Government ‘should fund GPs to record dementia numbers ’

Experts call for support for measures to gather information on prevalence of illness

In the Republic, there is no dementia register or equivalent data available on the number of people diagnosed. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

In the Republic, there is no dementia register or equivalent data available on the number of people diagnosed. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

The Government should fund general practitioners to record how many of their patients have a diagnosis of dementia, according to an academic who works in the field.

Dr Tony Foley, a lecturer in general practice at University College Cork, who is also carrying out research under the Irish National Dementia Strategy, believes there is merit in GPs in the Republic developing registers for illnesses such as dementia.

“We need a dementia calculator like that in the UK, which provides a picture of how many patients are diagnosed with dementia in any particular area,” he told Belfast investigative website The Detail.

In the Republic of Ireland, there is no dementia register or equivalent data available on the number of people diagnosed.

“With this baseline data we could, for the first time, identify the number of patients diagnosed and potentially undiagnosed when compared to current estimates,” said Dr Foley.

Current estimates point to about 55,000 people living with dementia in the Republic, with experts now calling for support for new measures to gather information on the prevalence rates, especially since numbers are forecast to rise to 152,000 by 2046 as the older population grows. These estimates are based on extrapolations from population figures using European prevalence rates.

A new dementia audit tool for GPs will be rolled out later this year aimed at allowing GPs to identify the number of patients currently diagnosed with dementia and also those prescribed medication for dementia in their practice.

Massive savings

On the need to support GPs in gathering data, Dr Foley said: “We have learned from the UK and elsewhere that to meet the targets of optimal chronic disease care, practitioners need to be adequately reimbursed. If GPs were incentivised to manage dementia this would lead not only to improvements in the quality of care of patients but also to massive savings to the state.”

Dr Foley has been centrally involved in the development of the software tool with the Irish Primary Care Research Network, which he says will enable GPs to audit their practice to identify all patients that may have dementia.

The tool has been developed for use by individual GPs but, as it stands, will not create a national dementia register, which would require government support. His research under the National Dementia Strategy is funded by the HSE and Atlantic Philanthropies.

The Detail’s funders have also included Atlantic Philanthropies.

The Department of Health said a number of actions under the National Dementia Strategy would improve the coding and recording of dementia diagnosis and prevalence in hospitals and primary care but noted that this work by the Health Service Executive would be dependent on available resources.

“The National Dementia Strategy clearly distinguishes between actions that can be progressed within current resources and those which will require additional resources to implement,” a spokesperson for the department said. “It is anticipated that actions in all of these areas together with the planned development of the Electronic Health Care Record will lead to better information on dementia patients in primary, secondary and long term care.”