Dementia diagnosis recovery lagging behind routine procedures – as people with dementia face up to a two year wait for diagnosis

The national audit of memory assessment services in England and Wales, conducted between January and August 2021 by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and supported by Alzheimer’s Society, has revealed the average waiting time from referral to dementia diagnosis has increased to 17.7 weeks, up from 13 weeks in 2019; with waiting times across services nationwide ranging between 0 and 104 weeks (two years), compared to 3 and 34 in 2019.

This contrasts starkly with the huge drop in the number of people waiting more than two years for routine procedures in England, falling from 22,500 people at the start of 2022, to fewer than 2001.

The memory assessment services audit also revealed a decrease in early-stage drug prescriptions in 2021, suggesting more people are receiving their diagnosis later and therefore missing early access to drug treatments to help relieve symptoms.

Dementia diagnosis rates have dropped across all three nations due to the pandemic and are stagnating at around 62%, far below the national target of 66.7%. Alzheimer’s Society has been campaigning to return the rates back to pre-pandemic levels.

The audit was published just days before the Government announced the launch of a new ‘national dementia mission’, in honour of the late Dame Barbara Windsor, that will include a further £95m for dementia research funding.

Dementia is the biggest killer in the UK and currently, there are 900,000 people in the UK living with the condition, set to rise to one million by 2025.

James White, Head of Public Affairs and Campaigns at Alzheimer’s Society said: 

“This audit paints a bleak picture for dementia diagnosis in large parts of the country. On average there has been a 4-month increase in the wait for a diagnosis, which means in some areas there are now people waiting up to two years to be diagnosed with dementia. Behind these statistics are potentially thousands of people missing out on months and months of vital support and treatments that could relieve their symptoms and enable them to stay independent for longer.

“These are the repercussions of dementia diagnosis services being chronically underfunded and overlooked, with regional inequalities only getting worse. We welcome the newly announced ‘national dementia mission’ on research which offers hope for the future. The Government must also help people affected by dementia now by delivering £70m that will help clear backlogs, improve waiting times, and reduce local variations in diagnosis rates.”


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