In England, more than half of the local authorities are falling short of the national target for dementia diagnosis, leaving hundreds of thousands undiagnosed, a leading dementia charity said.
A report by parliamentarians revealed how diagnosis rates varied across the country, with MPs and peers calling for a levelling up of services.
The government set a national target for diagnosing dementia in people aged 65 years and older at 66.7%. The latest figures showed that at the end of September the rate was 64.3%, up from 64.1% in August, according to NHS Digital.
A study by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Dementia, funded by the Alzheimer's Society, calculated that 257,390 people with dementia were living without an accurate diagnosis in England.
While there is currently no cure for dementia, treatments are available. Breakthrough drugs are "coming round the corner," said Fiona Carragher, director of research and influencing at the Alzheimer's Society. However, future drugs would "require people to get a diagnosis," the charity said.
The NHS figures on diagnosis rates showed a difference of more than 40 percentage points between the highest and lowest areas in England. For instance, Stoke-on-Trent had the highest rate at 89.9%, whilst in Swindon it was only 49.7%.
The Alzheimer's Society warned that inequality was "rife," and that more than half of England's local authorities were failing to meet national dementia diagnosis goals.
The APPG inquiry, led by Labour MP Debbie Abrahams and Conservative Peer Baroness Angela Browning, revealed a complex set of factors behind the diagnosis disparity and called for better data to understand how these different factors influenced the national picture, including the availability of brain scanners, transportation access, deprivation, rurality, and ethnicity.
Ms Abrahams said that "all of the evidence shows that timely diagnosis is crucial for people with dementia, particularly in increasing access to drugs." However, she underlined that the report showed that current diagnosis rates were "simply a postcode lottery."
Pockets of Excellence
The group of cross-party MPs, along with the Alzheimer's Society, called for a levelling up of diagnosis rates, as well as an urgent improvement in the speed and accuracy of dementia diagnosis, particularly in rural and ethnically diverse areas.
Dr Karan Jutlla, an ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society, and Dementia Lead at the University of Wolverhampton, said that when trying to understand the challenges faced by members of ethnic communities in getting a dementia diagnosis, "we need to look behind the headline figures." She pointed out that Wolverhampton had a "relatively high" dementia diagnosis rate, but this was "disguising challenges of the 35.5% of the population who are from ethnic communities."
Fiona Carragher noted "pockets of excellence" in diagnosis rates, with some areas "bucking the trend" through innovation. "Improvement is possible, but we need more tailored services across the country, and better local planning by Integrated Care Systems to help bridge the gap and reach underserved communities," she emphasised.