NHS England launched a drive to increase dementia diagnosis rates in 2012 (photo: Thomas Quine used under Creative Commons)

The number of people with dementia in Greenwich borough is being under-reported because of NHS staffing problems, it has emerged as new figures reveal neighbouring Bexley showed a trebling in the number of people diagnosed with the condition.

A BBC investigation showed Greenwich had one of the lowest increases in England in the five years to March – while Bexley has had the fastest rise in the country after a nationwide push by the NHS to increase diagnosis rates.

Between 2014 and 2019, the number of patients on the dementia register in Greenwich increased by 9%, from 972 in April 2014 to 1,061 in March 2019.

But in Bexley, 1,897 people in the borough are on the dementia register – up from 618 in 2014, an increase of 207%. Neighbouring Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley, in Kent, saw an increase from 705 to 1,705, up 117%.

Bromley saw the number of people on the dementia register go up from 1,865 to 3,113 – an increase of 67% – while Lewisham recorded a rise from 1,055 to 1,578, up 50%. Across London, the figures are up by 52% to 51,700.

Dementia care costs the UK just under £35bn per year – with families footing two-thirds of the bill. The government launched an initiative to increase the diagnosis in 2012, when it was estimated only 40% of those living with the condition had been officially diagnosed.

The Greenwich Clinical Commissioning Group, which co-ordinates healthcare services in the borough, said that Greenwich’s figures were likely to be higher because of staffing issues and problems getting GP surgeries to record the data.

“The variation [between boroughs] is a combination of both the demographic and diagnosis rates as well as data recording issues within GP surgeries with the register where these figures are recorded,” a spokesperson told 853.

“Bexley does have a higher rate of older adults with NHS England & Improvement estimating that 2,714 people over the age of 65 in the borough of Bexley have a dementia diagnosis, whereas Greenwich is estimated to have 1,805 people over the age of 65 with a dementia diagnosis.

“We have issues with our dementia diagnosis service due to vacancies and long term sickness that has affected our diagnosis rate. We identified data recording issues in March 2019, which led to an under-reporting of recorded dementia diagnosis.”

NHS England told the BBC: “Spotting dementia in a timely way means people get the care they need, when they need it, so it’s good news that thanks to concerted efforts nationally and locally the NHS is now diagnosing more people than ever before, beating the target we set ourselves.

“As the population ages, dementia is becoming a challenge for more families, which is why the NHS Long Term Plan sets out a blueprint for older people’s care and makes early diagnosis and treatment for major health problems a top priority.”

This story was produced with data from the BBC’s Shared Data Unit. For the full datasets, click here.

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