THE pandemic will undo 10 years of progress in dementia care unless urgent funds are allocated by the Scottish Government, a charity leader has warned.

Henry Simmons, chief executive of  Alzheimer Scotland, said Covid had “decimated” the local authority and charity-led supports that allow people to live in their own homes for longer.

He said this would undoubtedly lead to more people going into residential care earlier, while the NHS is facing a massive backlog of patients waiting for diagnostic tests.

Everyone who is newly diagnosed with dementia should receive a designated link worker and a year of intensive support, but Mr Simmons said the pandemic had exacerbated an existing disparity in service provision across Scotland.

An estimated 90,000 people north of the Border have dementia and the charity believes only about half were receiving this level of support pre-Covid. Around 20,000 people are expected to have developed dementia in the past year.

READ MORE: Covid leading to surge in dementia cases amid growing evidence how virus 'attacks the brain'

The charity has called on the Government to appoint a dementia director to oversee national policy and ensure local authorities have enough funds to support the recovery of services.

Mr Simmons said this should happen in advance of the new National Care Service being set up, such was the urgency.

He said: “I can’t emphasis enough how much our frontline are helping people deal with crisis because they have basically had to go through this on their own.

“Everyone has done their best but most of the strands of support have been taken away.

“We’ve got 60,000 people living at home and they have all had to self-manage their support. There is no way we expect local authorities to step in and meet that need on their own. It’s too much to expect.

The Herald:

“We have to have a national approach and dedicated funding to tackle this.

“We developed a model almost 10 years ago that works with an individual and their family for a year.

“You are going way beyond just giving someone medication. You are working with their strengths and coming to terms with the illness, you are building resilience and helping them make decisions in the future, helping them plan how they are going to live well.

“If you take a year to do that, you have more than likely helped that person and their families to live reasonably well with dementia for a good number of years.

“The pandemic effectively enforces a stoppage on all of that. Our workers had to try to support people over the telephone. 

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“That’s 5,000 to 6,000 people we would have supported in that year. The Scottish Government estimates around 20,000 people would have developed dementia last year. Many of them will not have received a diagnosis and many more will not have received post-diagnosis support. So they are going to require a doubling up of support.”

He added: “If you don’t invest there, you go back to the position where we were 10 years ago where people were admitted to residential care for two or three years longer than they needed to be.”

Dementia forms part of mental health strategy, which Mr Simmons says has led to the condition being given less prominence than it merits given the prevalence of the illness. 

“We are asking for a director appointed to lead a division with a budget. What’s really important is that this directorate can work closely with joint boards and local authorities with an adequate  budget to support the recovery of our community.

“We have good strategies but not all of the strategies have been implemented across the 32 local authorities. There is no accountability.

The Herald:

“We need a national strategy and the National Care Service will take three, four, maybe five years to set up."

Mr Simmons said prior to the development of the charity’s strategy 10 years ago “dementia would have been a paragraph in mental health”.

He added: “What we have now are strategies but we almost replicate that paragraph with the size of the team that is designated to look at dementia.

READ MORE: Concern over increase in premature care home admissions 

“What we have is a neurological condition that’s terminal and requires very specific interventions, but the tricky part is dementia swings between social care and health as you progress through the journey. 

“What that means is it doesn’t gel well. If the Government doesn’t have a dedicated directorate from diagnosis to end of life, it doesn’t work.”

The Herald supports Alzheimer Scotland’s campaign for fairer care costs. The Scottish Government has pledged to almost double the rate of free personal and nursing contributions as part of the new National Care Service.

The Herald:

A Government spokeswoman said: “We know older people  with dementia and their families have been impacted as a result of the pandemic.

"To ensure our social care system consistently delivers high quality services across Scotland, we will establish a National Care Service in this parliamentary term.

“This service will oversee the delivery of care, improve standards, ensure enhanced pay and conditions for workers. 

“It will provide better support for unpaid carers, and as part of a rights-based approach, we will strengthen residents rights in adult residential settings.

“Currently, we are implementing the National Dementia Covid-19 Action Plan with partners, which continues to support recovery for people with dementia and their carers across all care settings. 

“We have also recently extended funding for a national helpline, hosted by Alzheimer Scotland, for care home residents’ families and which helps and supports families in visiting loved ones in accordance with visiting guidance.”