Dementia diagnosis in Cumbria now four times faster thanks to ‘virtual clinics’
New virtual clinics in the Memory Matters team at Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust means patients suspected of having dementia are able to be diagnosed four times faster than before.
This is because the whole referral to diagnosis process has been streamlined.
David Storm Senior Clinical Services Manager explained: “Staff in the Memory Matters team at Carleton Clinic Carlisle have been piloting Virtual Clinics since early in 2015. There have been radical changes in how the team works. Previously patients who were referred to the team by their GPs went through a long diagnosis process which included being seen initially by a mental health nurse for assessment, tests and brain scans requested, then sometimes a substantial wait for a follow up 45 minute appointment with a Psychiatrist.
In the Virtual Clinics new referrals are screened, the patient is then seen for a full assessment by a nurse including elements previously done by a Psychiatrist. A brain scan is then requested, together with other assessments with the person and their family. The ‘virtual’ part is next; the nurse will present the case – without the patient, to the Psychiatrist and Memory Matters team, so all the experts needed are in the same room. An in-depth discussion is held which takes into account the patient, their family and carers, as well as all the assessment results. A diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan is made based on the information at hand. The diagnosis is usually given to the patient by the same nurse they have seen at the initial assessment which makes the patient feel more comfortable.
Virtual Clinics have now been rolled out across Cumbria. The new diagnosis process means that the patient is being seen by less people and the process is speeded up. This is incredibly important considering the increasing numbers of people with dementia in the county; the number of people being referred for diagnosis has nearly doubled in the last year*.
Dr Darren Reynolds Consultant Psychiatrist said” More patients are seen in much less time. Nurses carry out high level assessments, share knowledge and there is a much better outcome for the patient”.
Helen Todd, Senior Nurse in the community mental health team said: “The Memory Matters team continually challenge themselves on how they can keep improving and what they can do better. Referrals have increased by almost 200% in the past 12 months and a diagnosis is now given 4 x quicker than previously. There is a much better use of resources within the team and no there was no need to recruit any extra staff so we are far more efficient. Now there are no waiting lists and patients are seen within 15 days. Also because of the team’s #seethePERSON project, which focusses on the person behind the illness – all people referred are seen from their perspective, placing Dementia into the context of their life as a whole and focussing on improving quality life, not just the symptoms which benefits both patients and families”.
Feedback from GPs is very positive. Some comments were “Great idea, no negatives from me!” “It has been great – patients seen quickly, tested and given a management plan.” “I think it’s working well. Same nurse equals consistent assessments. We couldn’t get this detail in primary care without investing lots of time. Allows Consultants to see the more complex”.