Local GPs defended over their role in region’s low dementia diagnosis rates

Alzheimer Scotland resource worker in the Borders, Stephen Fox, during an open information day held within Morrison supermarket in Hawick on Tuesday.
Alzheimer Scotland resource worker in the Borders, Stephen Fox, during an open information day held within Morrison supermarket in Hawick on Tuesday.

FAMILY doctors are not dragging their feet when it comes to diagnosing cases of dementia in the Borders.

So says Dr Tim Young, chairman of the Local Medical Committee, which represents the interests of all NHS GPs in the region to NHS Borders.

Earlier this month, a major conference was held to review the treatment of dementia in the Borders, from which emerged criticism of some local GPs for the low rates of diagnosis.

Held in Kelso, the conference was organised jointly by Alzheimer Scotland, NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council social work staff.

Alzheimer Scotland says that, according to estimated prevalence rates which have so far proved correct for every other health authority region in Scotland, only 40 per cent of those estimated to be suffering from dementia in the Borders have actually had it confirmed by a medical diagnosis.

And it has launched a localised campaign targeting this region to try to raise public awareness of the disease.

The organisation claims the Borders is now trailing behind almost everyone else in the country when it comes to dementia diagnosis rates and says this is making it difficult to argue the case for increased resources to tackle the disease.

And there is frustration that, despite all the good work being done locally on dementia, the region still looks set to get a black mark from the Scottish Government if it fails to meet national HEAT (Heath improvement, Efficiency, Access & Treatment) targets.

However, Dr Young told TheSouthern this week it was both unfair and incorrect to lay blame at the door of local GPs.

“My feeling is that there is no evidence that GPs in this area are dragging their feet when it comes to diagnosing dementia,” he said.

“Dementia sufferers are not being neglected. GPs are diagnosing what comes through their doors.”

Dr Young agreed that early diagnosis – something most of those at the Borders conference were strongly in favour of – was helpful.

However, when referring to HEAT targets, Dr Young said targets in themselves did not help patient care.

He said: “At the end of the day, these are statistical targets.

“If the Borders is not reaching these statistical targets, it perhaps means that there is a lower rate of prevalence of dementia in this area.”

Dr Young said figures he had seen showed that there were 890 people in the Borders diagnosed with dementia and the estimated figure of the total number of sufferers stood at 995.

He added: “So, I don’t think we’re doing too badly.

“And I would stress that there is no conscious effort by GPs in the Borders to not diagnose dementia.

“People are screened and then offered appropriate help. What some GPs could, perhaps, be accused of, is being a bit tardy when it comes to putting these people on the register.

“But there is no advantage to doctors from not diagnosing it.”

But Stephen Fox, Alzheimer Scotland’s resource worker for the Borders, who as one of the main organisers of the dementia conference, is currently touring a dementia information roadshow around the Borders, says people are clearly concerned about the situation.

“What we are seeing at our roadshows is that there is a considerable level of concern among the local population about unmet need when it comes to dementia,” he said.

“We are working on a constructive programme to try to help meet that, but what is needed is a bridging process to help get people into GPs’ surgeries.”