Nurses have been called to give evidence as part of a new review that is looking to improve and extend the lives of those living with dementia, by tackling avoidable hospital admissions.
A group of the UK’s leading dementia organisations are backing the Geller Commission, which will conduct an independent review of dementia-related hospital occupancy in England.
The commission, chaired by Laurence Geller, has the support of a coalition of organisations including leading charities Dementia UK, which runs the Admiral Nurse service, and the Alzheimer’s Society.
Other supporters are the UK Dementia Research Institute, the World Dementia Council and the Geller Institute of Ageing and Memory at the University of West London.
In an open letter published today in Nursing Times, the commission’s members have stressed the importance of needing a change in the approach to hospital care for those living with dementia.
They have called on those with lived experience and expertise, including nurses, to provide testimonies in their public consultation.
The commission’s cross-sector review aims to provide practical recommendations to improve clinical pathways for those living with dementia, which will in turn relieve financial pressure on the NHS.
It will consider how the health and care sector can harness the UK’s research, technological innovations and clinical expertise to reduce hospital admissions for those living with dementia.
The commission launched the review yesterday at an event held in London, where it urged leading nurses in the sector, parliamentarians and other experts to contribute to the consultation.
It comes as there are currently over 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK. This is set to rise to around 1.3 million by 2030 and 1.6 million by 2040.
Economist Julian Jessop, who is a member of the commission, said at the launch that, at any one time, one in four acute care beds are occupied by someone living with dementia – equivalent to around nine million bed days per year.
He noted that the average length of stay for someone with a primary diagnosis of dementia was around 31 days, compared to just five days for all other patients.
Mr Jessop warned that hospital admission itself “can accelerate conditions associated with dementia” which, in turn, can lengthen the time patients spend in hospital.
Looking at the cost of this increased hospital care, Mr Jessop estimated that dementia will cost the UK economy £50bn a year by 2025 – equivalent to £1bn a week.
“It is relatively expensive to look after someone living with dementia in a hospital, rather than alternative care setting, such as a nursing home,” he said.
Mr Jessop added: “Needless to say, the quality of care should be paramount, not the cost. But a hospital setting is often not the best place to look after someone living with dementia.”
This view was echoed by Dr Hilda Hayo, the chief Admiral Nurse at Dementia UK, which is among the organisations supporting the commission.
Speaking at the launch, Dr Hayo said: “The experience of people [with dementia] in acute hospitals is very negative. The reason I say this is because we get calls on our helpline.
“People are saying that when their loved one goes into a hospital bed, sometimes it’s an avoidable admission.”
Once people with dementia are admitted to hospital, many deteriorate to the point where “they probably won’t be able to go back home and live independently”, she warned.
Alongside tackling avoidable hospital admissions, Dr Hayo called for better education for health workers about dementia.
She said: “Staff often don’t understand dementia. There is a lot of work to be done with staff within the sectors.
“Where it works more effectively is where you have the specialist dementia support within the hospital, but also in the community to support that person to come out of hospital,” she added.
Dementia UK provides specialist nurses, known as Admiral Nurses, to people living with dementia and their families.
Dr Hayo highlighted the positive impact that Admiral Nurses have on people with dementia and their families.
“We specialise in dementia specialist nurses, and I have to say, I’m really proud of what we do as a charity,” she said.
To find out more about Dementia UK and the legacy of Admiral Nurses, read Nursing Times’ interview with Dr Hayo that marked her 10 year anniversary at the charity.