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Dementia care under the spotlight

Dementia can have a devastating impact on whole families who not only have to come to terms with the fact that their loved one is ill, but are also often left with the burden of arranging care and managing affairs.

However if things take a turn for the worse because something has gone wrong with the dementia patient’s treatment, then that can plunge families into even more despair.

This is an issue I have experience of in my role as a solicitor specialising in medical negligence at JMW as I am currently helping families who have been victims of poor dementia care and have seen how it has compounded their suffering.

I was interested to read, therefore, that the NHS regulator has found that most dementia patients are likely to suffer substandard care at some point due to the ineffectiveness of current systems (the Guardian).

In a review the Care Quality Commission found that dementia care provided by nine out of 10 care homes and hospitals was ‘variable’ or ‘poor’. Although according to the Guardian the CQC saw more good care than bad it uncovered widespread issues across the 129 care homes and 20 acute hospitals it visited.

It’s a shocking, but not entirely surprising, finding. In my experience dementia patients who find themselves in hospital do not always get access to the specialist care they need to keep them safe. General nurses can be stretched to their limits and struggle to monitor dementia patients as they should, which can lead to avoidable injuries and additional and unnecessary suffering.

It is a difficult situation for hospitals as resources are already stretched and the number of dementia patients is increasing as people in the UK live longer and longer. However that is all the more reason for the NHS to get a grip on this issue.

It is unacceptable for dementia patients to endure undignified treatment in hospital and be at risk of preventable injuries such as falls. Having dementia specialists on hand to ensure that does not happen is one solution. In addition, each dementia patient who is admitted to hospital ideally needs a named person who is ultimately responsible for them. However in the cases the team at JMW are handling this has sadly not happened.

The issue of dementia care is not going to go away. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the Guardian that the government has trained staff to recognise the signs of dementia and has invested in ‘dementia friendly’ hospital awards but with patients continuing to be at risk this clearly does not go far enough.

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