NHS bosses have announced that family doctors are to receive £55 for each patient they diagnose with dementia. This seems to be a reaction to the perception that doctors are failing to send patients for dementia tests and are ignorant of the symptoms.
Of course, anything that improves awareness of dementia and leads to early diagnosis is a good thing. I’m sure I am far from alone in having seen a relative suffer from this condition and watch their deterioration with great sadness. Statistics produced by the Alzheimer’s Society about how many of us may experience some form of dementia as we get older make frightening reading.
But is giving doctors a financial reward for diagnosing dementia a sensible course of action? Or – putting it slightly flippantly – do we need to watch out for a GP who suddenly has a new Porsche (albeit at the cheaper end of the market) after diagnosing 1,000 patients?
I am not suggesting that most (or even many) GPs are suddenly going to deliberately misdiagnose patients to boost their income. The vast majority of GPs are people of integrity who just want the best for those under their care.
But any time money is a potential inducement to make a decision, there is a risk of corruption or, at least, a blurring of motivation. The Guardian reports that doctors and patient groups have slammed this scheme, describing it as an “intellectual and ethical travesty”.
This NHS scheme has incentives worth £31 million. If GPs are not diagnosing and treating dementia adequately, would that budget not be better invested in courses to promote dementia awareness, and teach doctors how to best spot the symptoms and provide the most appropriate treatments.