Tens of thousands of people with dementia are taken to hospital each year for emergency admission because inadequate social care has left them unprotected from infections, falls and dehydration, an investigation has found.
There has been a 27% increase over a four-year period in avoidable illnesses and injuries caused by failures in care for those living with dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, which sent Freedom of Information Act requests to all NHS trusts.
“This news comes just under a week after the Queen’s speech frustratingly made only a brief mention of the prime minister’s promise nearly two years ago to deliver a clear plan for social care reform, a devastating blow for the 850,000 people living with dementia, worst hit by coronavirus,” said Kate Lee, chief executive officer at Alzheimer’s Society.
The charity found that nearly two-thirds of dementia emergency admissions could have been avoided. It blames cuts in social care budgets and warned that worse is to come.
Launched to mark Dementia Action Week, the charity’s investigation also found that nearly three-quarters of family carers said loved ones with dementia had experienced preventable medical issues because of lack of support. One in nine had been taken to hospital.
A supporting survey found that lack of support meant many family carers felt themselves to be at breaking point, with 95% saying it affected their physical or mental health, 69% reporting feeling constantly exhausted, 64% feeling anxious and 49% feeling depressed.
While an increase in the number of people with dementia has contributed in part to the rise in avoidable admissions, much of the increase is thought to be due to cuts in spending on adult social care piling pressure on A&E and ambulance services.
With interruptions to routine health and care services, and isolation enforced by lockdown, many people with dementia have seen their health deteriorate over the pandemic, and with spending cuts biting, the charity warns that it expects hospital admissions to increase sharply, costing the NHS millions, unless drastic action is taken to improve dementia care.
“In the last month alone, Alzheimer’s Society has heard shocking reports of people with dementia losing the ability to walk, getting pneumonia, and being taken to hospital with kidney damage from dehydration,” said Lee. “These are all avoidable with quality dementia care.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK and co-chair of the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), said: “These new figures are a terrible indictment of our failure to provide people living with dementia, and their families and carers, with anything like enough support.
“As a result we are piling unnecessary pressure on our hospitals, which are left to pick up the pieces when it would have been so much better for everyone if the right help had been made available earlier on,” she said. “This all goes to show why it’s so important that the prime minister keeps his promise to ‘fix social care’ this year.”