Lack of Dementia Care in Cornwall

West Cornwall Healthwatch report on growing number of Dementia Suffers in Cornwall amid reduced local services.

There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK – of these, more than 9000 live in Cornwall.   Numbers are set to rise to over a million by 2025, with an estimated two million people living with dementia by 2051.

It is anticipated that nearly a quarter of a million people will develop dementia this year - that’s one every three minutes; it means probably 3000 new cases in Cornwall this year.  40,000 people under 65 have ‘early onset’ dementia – but the numbers rise with age, such that one in six people over the age of 80 are living with dementia.

With the incidence of dementia rising, the implications for our health and social care services are immense.  These days, the expectation is that people will stay at home for as long as possible.  This requires an army of carers, usually relatives (partners, sons and daughters) for whom the burden can be enormous.  Respite care is a godsend, but is very difficult to come by.  Eventually, the time usually comes when care in a private nursing home is needed but, again, appropriate specialist care is hard to find. 

This issue was brought into sharp focus recently, with the case of the 89 year old man from Porthleven who has had to be moved 300 miles to a unit in Northampton, because no suitable care could be found for him in Cornwall.  Unfortunately, five years ago Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust decided to reduce the number of beds for specialist dementia assessment and treatment, closing one of its two units and using the money to pay for more specialist dementia care workers.  Now there is just one specialist ward, in Bodmin Hospital.  Patients should have a primary care dementia practitioner allocated to them on diagnosis, but these are few in number and aim to visit their patients once every six months.  So support at home is patchy and in many cases insufficient to meet the needs of the patient and his/her family. 

We believe that there needs to be a serious discussion about how we care for these vulnerable members of our community as they become more and more dependent on the NHS and Social Care.  It cannot be right that they need to be moved away from family to a distant county; nor is it right that they are left at home with inadequate support. However, quality care comes at a price, and many families have to find thousands of pounds a month to pay for care. If we still believe ourselves to be a caring society, this should be a wake-up call to us to find a better way to help them.