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A&E dementia admissions soar due to 'threadbare' social care

New report reveals 50,000 'avoidable' A&E admissions last year

Mark Gould

Thursday, 17 May 2018

The Alzheimer's Society says that a "threadbare" social care system is responsible for rising rates of emergency admissions for people with dementia. Its new report Dementia; the true cost, reveals that there were 50,000 avoidable A&E admissions of over 65s last year - a 70% increase in the last five years - figures which it says tally with cuts in social care funding.

The report reveals that one in five paramedics report seeing the situation "every single day", describing it as "soul destroying" and "utterly depressing".

The investigation involved Freedom of Information requests to NHS trusts in England and a survey of frontline paramedics. While it accepts that an ageing population and better data recording in hospitals has contributed in part to the rise, the report says much of the 70% increase is thought to be due to inadequate care in the community piling pressure on A&E and ambulance services.

In a similar time period there has been a 40% cut to council budgets responsible for social care funding, and the number of people accessing support has been steadily dropping, despite more people living with dementia than ever before.

Frontline staff confirmed the rise in avoidable emergency admissions, with three quarters (75%) of paramedics surveyed reporting that the problem has become more common in recent years. Half (50%) reported dealing with instances every week, and one in five (21%) said they see the situation every single day.

One paramedic expressed frustration at taking people with dementia to hospital for things which could have been spotted and treated much earlier, calling it “utterly depressing” and “one of the key things that can turn a good shift into a sad one”.

Another told of “the torture of travelling to hospital” for someone with dementia, and a third said they get regular calls from nursing homes who want people with dementia admitted because they cannot cope.

The Alzheimer's Society says the findings underline "the false economy of poor access to social care", in addition to the level of distress it can cause for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s Society calculations estimate that last year avoidable admissions are estimated to have cost the NHS between £300-400 million. Only two-thirds of people with dementia have a diagnosis, and it says hospitals fail to recognise a third of those patients with a diagnosis, "so the cost is likely to be a conservative estimate".

Alzheimer’s Society chief executive Jeremy Hughes warned: “Successive governments have shirked the issue of our threadbare social care system. Starved of the care they need, people with dementia end up in A&E as a last resort, disrupting their home life and forcing them to struggle in crowded hospital wards. It shouldn’t and needn’t be like this.”

Responding to the report, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, said: “One avoidable admission is one too many. Fifty thousand is a sign of a system that is not fit for purpose and is failing a generation of vulnerable people with dementia, as well as overstretched health and care staff.

“Hospitals struggled this winter under intolerable pressure and without new models of care and investment in health and social care services in the community, the position will only worsen.

“Our members have made it abundantly clear that the government’s promise of a long-term funding solution must include social care alongside with the NHS. There are ways to stop this from happening but it will require resources and political commitment.”

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