Call for national dementia database

Chief Constable Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy (file photo) Sir Peter says police morale is affected by having to deal with people with dementia

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A police chief is calling for a national database holding the details of people suffering from dementia.

Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said it would help emergency services assist people who are either confused or agitated.

"It will enable the caring agencies to give a much better service when we receive a call and decide how to treat it," Sir Peter said.

The Alzheimer's Society said it could cause more problems than it solved.

It is estimated there are 800,000 people in the UK who are suffering from some form of dementia, and that figure is set to rise to more than one million over the next decade.

Many people with dementia live in the community rather than in care homes.

Start Quote

If the police or ambulance get a call to that particular address, they can phone that relative to immediately get some background information”

End Quote Sir Peter Fahy Chief Constable, Greater Manchester Police

Greater Manchester, one of the largest police forces in England, estimates that the equivalent of 400 of its 7,200 officers each year are deflected from traditional policing roles to deal with people who have mental health issues.

Part of that mental health workload is related to people suffering from dementia.

"It's a growing issue and sometimes it is because people suffering from dementia go missing, sometimes it's because they have fallen at home and they are confused and we need to gain access on behalf of the ambulance service," Sir Peter told BBC Radio 5 live Investigates.

"We have some people with dementia who are ringing us 30 times a day and clearly we have to take every one of those calls seriously," he added.

'Under the radar'

He said the police service needed to look at procedures which would ensure people with dementia get a better service.

"One thing I would like to see is a national database where carers and the families of elderly vulnerable people can put their contact details so if the police or ambulance get a call to that particular address, they can phone that relative and immediately get some background information," Sir Peter said.

"While some might see that as a threat to civil liberties and the state having too much information - in reality it will enable the caring agencies to give a much better service," he added.

Find out more

Elderly man with dementia

Listen to the full report on 5 live Investigates on BBC Radio 5 live on Sunday, 3 November, at 11:00 GMT or download the programme podcast.

But the Alzheimer's Society, which campaigns for improved services for people with dementia, is wary about such a scheme.

"Too many people with dementia currently go under the radar, and lose out on access to the health and social care support they need. Agencies like the police need to be able to identify people with dementia but giving them access to a national database may pose problems," George McNamara, the head of policy at the society said.

"If the police and social services were to simply share existing information more effectively, this could go a significant way towards aiding the police and enabling people with dementia to live independently in their own homes," he added.

Research by the BBC has shown that some police forces have seen an increase in incidents involving people with dementia. Around a quarter of forces across the UK - 14 - were able to provide figures, based on a trawl through their incident logs.

All the forces that responded indicated that these incidents had risen over the last two years.

Sussex Police, for example - which covers the popular retirement towns on the English south coast - saw an increase from 682 in 2010 to 1,815 in 2012.

Complex issue

People with some rarer forms of dementia can exhibit anti-social behaviour and as a result of their symptoms, may be more likely to come into contact with the police.

Angela Potter's husband was diagnosed with fronto-temporal dementia when he was 50. This form of dementia affects people's ability to reason and communicate.

"His character changed and just became less inhibited. He started to shoplift. He saw things that he wanted and he just took them, he didn't understand that you have to pay. He was banned from many shops," she said.

Fortunately her local community police officer in north London was sympathetic.

"He met my husband and understood the situation. He was willing to listen and try and understand and I called him any time I needed to, he was always very helpful," she said.

In Greater Manchester, Sir Peter said dealing with people with dementia and mental health issues can deflect officers from their more traditional roles.

"Sometimes it feels like crime is an ancillary activity for us - and to some extent crime is relatively straightforward. We know what to do with a burglary or a burglar.

"But often you are dealing with a complex issue involving a vulnerable person and you are struggling to get help from a medical person, and that can be a very difficult issue to solve," he added.

"An officer can be tied up for five, six or seven hours at a hospital waiting for a proper assessment to be made or waiting for them to be found a bed - and that clearly is a huge use of police time, it affects police morale and absolutely affects our ability to do our primary job of reducing crime."

In a statement the Department of Health said: "There are no plans to introduce a national database of dementia patients. Any decision to do so would have to be backed up by robust evidence demonstrating that it helps vulnerable people with the condition remain more independent. The choice of being included on such a database must be made by the individual and their family.

"We want to ensure that people with dementia can lead as independent lives as possible. This is why schemes such as Dementia Friends, which help to raise public awareness and understanding of the condition, are so important."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    The way to ease the burden on the Police is proper Mental health services. A classic case of false economy.

    He was not on the database list so I Tazered him
    He was on the database list so I Tazered him

    What about the Mentally ill



    No database is a substitute for good judgement

    The Police pick up the burden that the Health Service and local care providers have dropped

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    So "police morale is affected by having to deal with people with dementia"

    I know along with my mental health & digestive system having4 yrs dealing with Dads dementia made worse by attitude & general indifference of ALL Authorities & Agencies needed dealing with dementia. Wear out the relatives, wreck their health too. Its cheaper than doing something. Advice, lots of it, its very cheap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Another database for some imbecile to leave on the back seat of an unlocked car. Another step nearer our Big Brother society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    While it may be advantageous for some patients to disclose their dementia it may not be for others. To have a compulsory police database containing medical details could breach the human rights and the data protection acts. Just making things easier for the police is not a good reason to breach these acts - They are there for a reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    People will forget to update it.

    They do every other database - why should this be any different. I used to do IT audits. in many cases we found that essential and so called comprehensive databases were only 80% complete. They often contain out of data data and it's sometimes impossible to track down what is missing.

    Probably a waste of public money.

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    It looks as if the police are "hooked" on databases and keeping records of everyone. What next? A database for people who are infected with HIV? Have we not learned nothing from history? The police do not need a database. Leave these people alone. They are human like the rest of us and deserve respect and to be treated properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    In principle yes but I can see to many ways for it to go wrong.
    Missing entry - leads to the assumption that the patient doesn't have dementia
    Entry that has wrong details - symptoms could be ignored because they don't believe what the patient says
    Poor quality entry - either at source or out of date could lead to a wrong assessment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Cats/dogs get micro-chipped.

    Would it be wrong to microchip someone with serious mind issues & for much do not know what they do, or can be danger to themselves/others

    Whats point of a database if someone is out & no ID on them, the database would need to include fingerprints, which can be proceesed very quickly now to ID someone, but a microchip would enable much speedier information.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    So "police morale is affected by having to deal with people with dementia"
    My morale is affected by having to deal with the police - who gave him the knighthood?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This sort of remark just shows how ignorant the authorities are about dementia. A brief conversation with an afflicted person is the surest indication of their condition. This should be enough for humanity to shine through. Yes, in some instances Alzheimer sufferers can be disturbing but this is often during their more lucid moments. All that is needed is training and a little experience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It wouldn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Well, giving the choice of listening to a policeman and The Alzheimer's Society, who says 'it could cause more problems than it solved' I know which option I would take.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Why not have a data base for all those whose conditions appear to cause problems, eg epilepsy, diabetes, mental illness. That way we would be able to stigmatise all those who are considered as "not normal"

    Its about time that we learned to accept difference and treat all people kindly and with respect. We all get confused or forgetful from time to time. Police should be trained to accept this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Perhaps they could put sufferers in dementia rooms, drink tanks and shooting galleries seem to be all the rage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    This sounds like one of Hitler's plans...don't let it happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    A database of dementia or any other condition may be useful for the medical profession to study but it is no business of the police.

    Perhaps the Royal College of Surgeons should be given a database of convicted burglars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Completely wrong! Enough held on databases about public without more.
    Husband has Dementia and the fact this is even being thought about horrifies me. I do not want him on Police database and be stigmatised by Police or them even holding information on him. Leave us alone please it is hard enough to cope.......don't need this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    We've already had 2 "I forgot about the database" style jokes...Yawn...
    Clearly people who have never had to cope with a loved one with Dementia.
    Oh, and clearly lacking an original sense of humor !

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Funds would be better spent on more research into the causes - not just compiling, updating, maintaining and consulting a list - which, at any given time would not necessarily be accurate anyway. Alternatively, spend the money on a training module for officers to skill them in recognising the symptoms. They could then exercise their discretion in dealing with sufferers.


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