Byline: Sophie Borland Health Reporter
DEMENTIA sufferers in some parts of England are 53 times less likely to be given drugs to combat its devastating symptoms than those living in other areas, a report shows.
It also exposes how patients' chances of being diagnosed with the condition are entirely dependent on where they live.
The report, published today, shows the postcode lottery in a wide range of other types of NHS treatment including cancer, heart attacks and the care of mothers and their babies.
In some areas, GPs are twice as likely to spot Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia compared to those working in other areas.
In the worst primary care trusts, which include Devon, Derbyshire, Buckinghamshire and Somerset, just over a quarter of patients with dementia have ever been diagnosed.
But in the best, which include Hampshire and Cumbria, GPs are picking up nearly 59 per cent of all cases.
The Department of Health report also reveals how doctors in some parts of the country are prescribing a fraction of the amount of crucial drugs to reduce memory loss, confusion and agitation compared with doctors in other areas.
The lowest rates are in Hereford, Leicestershire and Wiltshire, where only 0.03 prescription items per patient are handed out for drugs such as donepezil or Aricept. In Hampshire, North Yorkshire and Shropshire the rate is 1.6 - a 53-fold difference. The figures do not include rates for anti-psychotic drugs, popularly known as the chemical cosh.
More than 766,000 Britons are believed to suffer from some form of dementia and this figure is expected to rise to one million within the next decade. But campaigners estimate that nationally up to 60 per cent are never diagnosed meaning hundreds of thousands of patients and their families are left to cope with its devastating symptoms on their own.
The Government has repeatedly promised to make dementia a priority by improving awareness among the public and ensuring GPs send higher numbers of patients for memory tests.
But the report warns that 'dementia has been stigmatised'. It adds that patients in some areas are being denied treatment because GPs do not refer them to specialist services or they never bother making an appointment as they assume 'nothing can be done'.
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: 'It's a shame that there is still such inconsistency in diagnosis and treatment around the country.
'It will take the collective will of people with dementia and health professionals to create a culture where dementia is recognised swiftly and acted upon. A diagnosis can help people with dementia access support services and treatments to help them maintain independent living for as long as possible.'
The Atlas of Variation report, which is largely comprised of a series of maps, also reveals huge disparities in NHS care in other crucial branches of medicine.