Questions are being raised over the practice of setting targets for the number of people who should be diagnosed with dementia.
Dr Martin Brunet, from Binscombe Medical Centre in Godalming, Surrey, said there needs to be an urgent debate before such practices get ‘out of hand’.
He fears that patients could be unnecessarily diagnosed with dementia as part of efforts to reach targets tied to financial incentives.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt published a ‘dementia map’ in November last year that enables people to view dementia diagnosis rates in their local area.
He said the map would help to drive up standards by showing how dementia care should be provided.
However, Dr Brunet has written in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that such ‘naming and shaming’ of areas with lower diagnosis rates leads to pressure to over-diagnose the condition.
He revealed that clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) - groups of GPs looking after the NHS purse strings - are already tying diagnosis rates to GP practise incomes.
Accompanying the letter was a graph detailing the diagnosis rates of each practice in the CCG, with the implication that those with lower rates needed to work hardest to help the CCG earn this income.
Dr Brunet said GPs will feel undue pressure to diagnose a patient with dementia when an individual may actually be suffering cognitive impairment that could improve without treatment.
He said nothing more than an individual’s best interests should come into play when a doctor is faced with a patient.
“The idea that doctors should be motivated by self-interest, such as personal or corporate gain, is abhorrent and undermines the basis of the relationship (with a patient),” said Dr Brunet.
“The making of a diagnosis is a key moment in a patient’s journey. It can bring great benefit by opening the door to effective treatments and support as well as giving a much needed explanation for worrying symptoms. But it can also bring great harm if incorrect.”
Dementia affects about 800,000 people in the UK, with individuals over the age of 65 most at risk of developing the condition.
It causes problems with memory loss, thinking speed, mental agility, language, understanding and judgement.
A person’s mobility can also deteriorate with age. Installing a stairlift in the home can therefore make a big difference.