The BMA Is Wrong - A Dementia Diagnosis Is Never 'Pointless'

Published: 22/05/2019

It’s not often the Alzheimer’s Society feels compelled to criticise the British Medical Association.

Written by: Ken Oxley  
Alzheimer's Society  
North East & Cumbria  

It’s not often the Alzheimer’s Society feels compelled to criticise the British Medical Association.

However, recent comments made by the chairman of its Community Care Committee, Dr Gary Wannan, have given the charity real cause for concern.

In an article published in The Telegraph, he argued that it was “pointless” to diagnose patients with dementia when there is no help available for them.

He said:
“There's no point in giving someone a label, but then not being able to provide support.”
His views are based on the assumption that a sharp increase in diagnosis rates – almost double in six years – has been driven by the need to hit targets.

There may be some truth in that – but that does not mean people should be denied the right to understand what is happening to them. How can it ever be a good idea to keep people in the dark?

The sooner you know for sure you have dementia, the sooner you and your family can learn more about what it entails…and what help is available.

There are many excellent services people with dementia can turn to for support. The Alzheimer’s Society runs Dementia Cafés, Singing for the Brain and Games for the Brain groups, Side-by-Side and Befriending support, Dementia Adviser services and more.

And where there are gaps – and no one is pretending they don’t exist – we and others are doing our best to fill them.
I’ve no doubt Dr Wannan and the BMA mean well. The main aim of their message is to highlight the desperate shortage of support services.

I would not disagree with that – but I do take exception to the choice of language used. A diagnosis is never pointless.
Information is power – and people concerned about their memory deserve to know the truth at the earliest opportunity, as do their loved ones.

Here’s what Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes has to say on the matter:
There is a desperate lack of fundamental support for people with a dementia diagnosis. This, as the BMA asserts, needs urgent attention as a diagnosis and support must go hand-in-hand.
However, this deeply concerning situation will be made far worse by denying someone a dementia diagnosis. Health and social care commissioners need to know the number of people with dementia in their area to commission adequate support.
If this number decreases because the NHS stops diagnosing dementia, the availability of support will wither further, heaping additional pressure on GPs, the health service and families as people’s needs spiral.
Instead the BMA needs to work together with commissioners to design services that provide people with dementia the support they need rather than backing away from the issue. 
It is wrong to regard a diagnosis of dementia as “pointless”. A timely diagnosis of dementia gives an individual the opportunity to be at the centre of making important decisions about their future while they still have the capacity; such as advanced care planning and putting a power of attorney in place.
Everyone has a right to know they have a disease. No one would condone not telling someone they have cancer and nor should we for those with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.” 
Ken Oxley is the Media Officer for the Alzheimer’s Society in the North East and Cumbria. For information about the charity’s services call 01642 442030 or visit our website.