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(Professor Richard Byng, Ian Sherriff, Dorothy Tudor and Dr Val Mann)

Professor Richard Byng, Ian Sherriff, Dorothy Tudor and Dr Val Mann

£2.7m study to focus on dementia support workers in primary care

A new study is investigating how to introduce dementia support workers into GP surgeries, with the ultimate aim of improving the quality of life for dementia patients and their carers.

Led by the University of Plymouth, the £2.7m study funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will develop a person-centred package of care in GP surgeries, focused on the introduction of one dementia expert (support worker) to link to the rest of the patient’s clinical team. 

The research project is being managed by Dr Val Mann, Associate Professor in Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Plymouth, in collaboration with the Devon Partnership NHS Trust, the University of Manchester, the University of Exeter, the London School of Economics and Political Science and Newcastle University. The study is also supported by the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (PenCLAHRC).

In a recent survey by the Alzheimer’s Society, 54% of carers reported that a hospital stay had had a significant effect on the symptoms of dementia, such as becoming more confused and less independent. 

This study aims to improve the experience of care and promote positive mental and physical wellbeing with the added potential benefit of preventing unnecessary hospital admissions. 

The programme, which will run for five years, will implement support for the patient’s carer too, helping to reduce the burden of care.

According to the Carers Trust, there are currently 850,000 people living in the UK with dementia and 670,000 unpaid carers; and over half a million people with dementia living at home supported by unpaid carers. If successful, the intervention could also help reduce acute health problems and lead to savings for the NHS. 

Dr Mann said: “Care for people with dementia is too patchy and inconsistent at the moment – some don’t receive enough support and their condition can transform very quickly. Dementia support workers, although highly valued, only exist in some places; health systems are reluctant to invest as no definitive trial to show benefit has been carried out.

“This study is looking to develop and test a support package to be used in GPs surgeries, and shift the funding from potentially harmful or unnecessary hospital admissions to supportive care close to home. If successful, it really has the potential to improve quality of life for a patient and their carer, and inform practice and process in the NHS.”

Dorothy Tudor is a carer for her partner Bob, who has dementia, and she is supporting the study team. She said: “Having a named person who, as a carer, we can contact now is important – not next week, not two weeks’ time. Hopefully this research will help to do away with hospital admissions, and help all the pain that we suffer.”

Professor Rose McCabe, at the University of Exeter Medical School, is part of the team. She said: “This study will introduce a key link person - a dementia support worker - for people with dementia and their families, who can help to support them by navigating through what can seem like a complex web of services. The support worker will have personal knowledge of the person with dementia and their family. This will help them to identify what that person needs at any point in time and provide a bridge in accessing that help.”

Ian Sherriff, Academic Partnership Lead for Dementia at the University of Plymouth and Chair of the Prime Minister’s Dementia Task & Finish Group, said: “It’s fantastic that we’ve secured this funding as there is widespread recognition at the highest level of government about the present and potential future impacts of dementia. We have developed links with dementia teams in China, Japan, Singapore and other countries throughout the world, so as well as being revolutionary for the NHS, this framework could be a real exemplar for the rest of the world.”

Professor Richard Byng from the University of Plymouth’s Institute of Translational and Stratified Medicine is leading the study. As a GP and Professor in Primary Care Research, he said: “Dementia is a very serious diagnosis and there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ for care. But patients and their carers are often left on their own to deal with the condition, and only come back to GPs when further problems develop. We will develop and evaluate a system of personalised support based in GP surgeries, which we hope will also help prevent harmful or unnecessary admissions.”

Date: 25 October 2018