More than 325,000 people in England have dementia but are undiagnosed, a new report suggests.
The impact of the Covid pandemic has led to dropping diagnosis rates, which are falling short of the government’s target of two-thirds.
The new report found a postcode lottery in who finds out they have the condition, with large variations across England.
It argues that £3 billion could be saved with better diagnosis rates, which currently vary across the country from 83% to 47%.
An estimated 676,000 people in England have dementia. Across the whole of the UK, the figure is thought to be 850,000.
NHS England has an ambition for diagnosis rates which says two-thirds of the estimated number of people with dementia in England should have a diagnosis and follow-up support. This was first achieved in November 2015 but the pandemic has seen rates fall.
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The latest data from NHS Digital shows that, in March, 62% of those aged 65 or over thought to have dementia have a diagnosis.
This figure has mostly remained the same for the whole of 2021 but was higher in February 2020, before the pandemic, at 68%.
The new report comes during Dementia Action Week, which aims to raise awareness of the illness.
The NHS Digital figures compare the number of people thought to have dementia with the number of people diagnosed with dementia, though data collection may have been impacted by the pandemic.
In its new analysis, Future Health, a healthcare policy research consultancy, said the data suggests more than 325,000 people in England may have dementia which is undiagnosed.
It said that from 2020 to 2021, 430,000 people had a formal diagnosis but analysis suggests around four in 10 of those with dementia did not.
It found the Midlands has the highest number of undiagnosed people with dementia, while London and the North West has the lowest number.
It also found variations within regions. For example, in Stoke-on-Trent, 83% of estimated dementia patients have been diagnosed, while in neighbouring Stafford and the surrounds only 48% of people have been diagnosed.
The report, which was funded by a grant from pharmaceutical giant Roche, suggests a raft of improvements, including using new digital tools to monitor people at risk and sending diagnosis equipment to areas of the country that need it the most.
Richard Sloggett, founder of Future Health and a former special adviser to Matt Hancock when he was health secretary, said: “The pandemic has set back the progress made on dementia diagnosis rates and urgent action is now needed to support recovery.
“The forthcoming dementia strategy must tackle regional disparities, particularly in how patient access to a diagnosis in rural areas can be improved.
“New targets, investment in diagnostics and technology along with a public health campaign can all help deliver a dementia diagnostic recovery that ensures patients get access to the treatment, care and support they deserve.”
Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer’s Society, said the study “evidences the need to address regional and health disparities to improve the experience of diagnosis in a fair way”.
She added: “As we move beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, we must now urgently work together to improve diagnosis, ongoing care and outcomes for people living with dementia.”
Conservative MP Laurence Robertson, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, said: “The latest figures show how important the government’s new dementia strategy is.
“As with most illnesses, the earlier dementia is diagnosed the better for a patient’s quality of life and to make sure they get the right treatment they need.”