Dementia: 'There are grave concerns about quality of care'

IT is heartbreaking to read of Alistair Moss's experience visiting his elderly mother who has dementia on a specialist care ward at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Watching the impact of this cruel condition on a loved one is always going to be a harrowing experience. But when there are grave concerns about the standard of care on which they have become reliant it must be especially distressing.

His complaints raise serious questions about the level of care being offered at the Royal Victoria. But the most disturbing aspect of the Moss family's case is that they are far from alone in their concerns.

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The experience of organisations such as Alzheimer's Scotland suggests thousands of people will see aspects of their own personal struggles in at least some elements of the Moss's story.

A series of studies have uncovered shortcomings in dementia care across Scotland and the rest of the UK. One, carried out by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland in 2007, found relatives of hospital patients with dementia were quick to praise the caring approach of the vast majority of staff.

They were equally anxious, though, to plead for wide-ranging improvements, particularly for staff to be given more time to spend with patients, and for more stimulation to be provided on the wards. The commission's report ended with a plea for a change of approach to ensure care is "driven by need, not by resources", although it is worth noting many of its recommendations do not involve extra cost.

The problem of providing first-class support in ageing hospital buildings and with limited resources will always be a fact of life in the NHS and it is undoubtedly extremely challenging for those involved.

There are encouraging signs though. The new elderly care hospital planned for Edinburgh to replace the Royal Victoria by 2012 will be a huge step in the right direction.

The Scottish Government has also proved it is willing to address the issue sooner than many of its European counterparts.

Much though rests on the content of its dementia strategy which it is due to unveil in the coming weeks.

Its success or otherwise is likely to depend heavily upon adequate funding being made available to implement its recommendations.

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With 64,000 Scots suffering dementia, and that figure expected to double within 30 years, there is one thing that is beyond doubt.

Much more needs to be done to tackle a problem which is too often sidelined or ignored.