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NHS England: Dementia training will ease nurses' 'strain'

Many people falsely believe dementia is “part of normal aging”, meaning they do not seek support for their illness, claims NHS England's dementia lead. 

In an exclusive interview with Nursing in Practice, Professor Alistair Burns said a third of the people attending his memory clinic have problems that “could be mistaken for dementia but are treatable”. 

According to Professor Burns, more awareness about dementia throughout the NHS could lessen the strain on nurses. 

He said: “There's a false belief that there's nothing you can do about dementia, but our work is to challenge that. Nurses have a really key role because they are the ones who meet people every day - district nurses in particular are very much on the front line.” 

Yet a recent report showed the number of district nurses in the UK has fallen by 42% over the last ten years.

At the time, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: “Sadly, if community services are not adequately resources, many older people may face being admitted or readmitted to hospital as an emergency. 

“Care closer to home is not only what people want, it is what UK health services need to do to avoid costly, lengthy and unnecessary hospital stays.” 

'Real relief' 

Yet for Professor Burns, more education about dementia could “reduce the strain” on individual nurses and give “real relief” to patients and their families.

“It's empowerment, it's the ability to plan and to avert crises, which I think in the long run could reduce the strain on nurses,” he said. 

“One of the things we would like to do is make dementia something that everyone should know a bit about, just like diabetes.”

Professor Burns said NHS England, together with Health Education England (HEE) aspires to have 10% of people working in the NHS as dementia experts, 50% who are dementia trained and 100% who are dementia aware. 

Professor Burns added: “It's about getting the positive messages out about dementia and making it all right to talk about dementia, memory problems, and getting everybody involved.” 

Professor Burns will give an update on the dementia challenge at the Health+Care Conference at London ExCeL on June 12-13.