Fewer patients in Staffordshire have been diagnosed with dementia because of the pandemic, it has been revealed.

Charities and doctors have warned of a drop in the number of cases being diagnosed which means vulnerable people are missing out on community care, leaving stretched hospitals to pick up the slack, they say.

NHS Digital data shows 9,933 cases of dementia were recorded by GP practices across the county at the end of June this year.

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That was 1,020 fewer than the 10,953 recorded at the end of June 2019, before the start of the pandemic. It was also lower than the figure for March last year as the country was entering its first lockdown when GPs reported 10,890 cases at the end of the month.

Only 65 per cent of people aged 65 and over who are thought to have dementia in Staffordshire had received a diagnosis in June this year, down from 72 per cent in June 2019, the figures show.

It means GPs in the area are falling just short of the NHS target for at least two-thirds of older people with dementia to be diagnosed.

The biggest decrease in the number of new diagnoses in the county has been seen in the East Staffordshire CCG area.

There, the number fell by 16 per cent compared to June 2019, to 939 - among the largest drops of any CCG area in England. It was also below the 1,104 diagnoses registered in March last year.

Meanwhile, North Staffordshire saw the smallest drop of the county’s six CCG areas. At the end of June, 2,196 were recorded in the area - eight per cent fewer than the same month before the pandemic, and five per cent down from the end of March 2020.

Diagnoses began to dip in April 2020 during the first full month of the pandemic, and in Staffordshire they hit a low in February this year, of 9,741.

Since then there have been signs of improvement across the county, with the number of recorded dementia cases climbing slowly but surely - although the number remains below pre-pandemic levels.

Across England, the vast majority of areas also saw fewer cases recorded in June than before the coronavirus caused widespread disruption to services.

Nationally, 436,597 dementia cases were registered at GP surgeries at the end of the month - eight per cent fewer than the 472,408 recorded in the same month two years earlier.

The drop was similar compared to March 2020, when 470,292 were recorded. As in Staffordshire, the number of cases has climbed slightly across England since hitting a low of 427,021 in February.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said dementia can be a "devastating" condition for patients, as well as their families and carers - a situation made worse by being isolated during the pandemic.

He said: "A timely diagnosis of dementia, reached through a process of shared decision making between patient and clinician, is important to ensure people can plan the best possible care.

"During the pandemic, particularly at the start, referrals to specialist services such as memory clinics have been difficult – in some cases, not possible at all – and this will have certainly impacted the number of patients being diagnosed.

"In some cases, patients may also have put off coming forward due to a fear of catching Covid-19 or not wanting to burden the NHS.

"However, it is now encouraging to see that referrals are starting to climb once again despite the massive workforce and workload issues facing general practice."

But he added that patients need better access to community care services after their condition has been detected.

Charities have expressed concern over the thousands of cases potentially being missed after the problem was raised by Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia and older people's mental health at NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Professor Burns told a conference that dementia sufferers had "disproportionately lost out" during the pandemic.

Dementia UK said the knock-on effect of cases not being picked up could be more hospital admissions for people affected by the condition, piling yet more pressure onto a creaking health service.

Hilda Hayo, chief executive of the charity, said: "A diagnosis of dementia can give families clarity, help them plan for the future, and provide access to support services in the community. With significant delays in this process, then families with dementia will be further left behind.

"This can be a very worrying time for the person who has the symptoms of dementia and they may fear that they are losing control over their life. However, there are still steps which families can take whilst they wait for a diagnosis.

"Trying to focus on what the person can still do and activities that they enjoy can help to reduce the fear and uncertainty that dementia can cause."

An NHS spokesperson said it was understandable that some older people felt unable to get help for the signs of dementia during the pandemic, but added that the number of referrals was now increasing, with 31 million GP appointments per month delivered to patients since March.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the Government is investing £17 million into the NHS to address dementia waiting lists and increase the number of diagnoses – as well as £344 million on research to improve care and diagnosis for those affected by the disease.

With the holidays approaching, we've pulled together some of the best days out around the region that you can take the family on for a budget.

It's a comprehensive guide to keeping the kids entertained through those long six weeks’ holidays. With a choice of free, under £10, under £25 and 'blow the budget', there’s a day out to suit everyone, for whatever they can afford.

To read the guide, click here

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