GPs offered bonus for dementia diagnosis

Plan is slammed by doctors and patient groups

Updated: 
Old man sitting with his hands on a wooden walking stick.

GPs would be paid £55 for each patient they diagnose with dementia, in a controversial plan aimed at improving the current poor levels of diagnosis of the disease.

NHS England says the aim is to identify more of the hundreds of thousands of people in Britain believed to be suffering from undiagnosed dementia. At the moment, it's believed that only around 50% of cases are diagnosed; the target is 68%.

Dementia refers to a number of different conditions affecting brain function, causing problems with memory, mental ability and the ability to carry out everyday tasks. As people live longer, the number of people with the condition is rising, and is predicted to hit 850,000 by next year.

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While dementia mainly affects older people - one in 14 over-65s suffer from it - there are more than 40,000 people aged under 65 with the condition in the UK. According to the Alzheimer's Society, 225,000 people will develop dementia this year - one every three minutes.

To get the extra cash, GP practices would have to demonstrate that their diagnosis rates were improving, and create a formal plan - possibly including visiting people in care homes who haven't been checked before.

Other "at-risk" patients include those over 60 living with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), obesity or diabetes; patients over 40 with Down's syndrome; and patients over 50 with learning disabilities.

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But the plan has been criticised by GPs.

"We need to ensure that any interventions are in line with patients' wishes and financial incentives to increase dementia diagnosis don't lead to inappropriate actions being taken," says Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

In many cases, referral to community services, such as memory clinics are more appropriate - and more beneficial to patients - than making a diagnosis as part of the GP-patient consultation."

She is also concerned that the plan would fail to reward practices which already have a good track record.

"It is also important to ensure that GP practices do not become a victim of their own "Whilst the 66% target might sound ambitious, many GP practices around the country are already achieving this and it is important that practices exceeding this target do not lose out on more money and resources," she says.

The Patients Association has also condemned the plans.

"There is an issue of people presenting late with dementia to doctors, but this is not the right way to go about tackling that," says CEO Katherine Murphy. "If people were given hope that something could be done, that would be the greatest incentive for coming early."

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