GPs are “unable or unwilling” to recognise dementia symptoms, evidence presented to the King’s Fund suggests.

The think tank’s report Managing People with Long Term Conditions, published today, found doctors were deterred by a lack of specialist services to refer patients to and a “lack of training and/or time to make an adequate diagnosis”.

Another factor was the judgement that patients might cope better “if a formal diagnosis were avoided”. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance says patients with suspected dementia should be referred quickly to a geriatrician, neurologist or memory clinic and that early intervention helps patients maintain their independence.

Research co-author and King’s Fund senior fellow Nick Goodwin said the problems experienced by those with dementia presenting to GPs echoed those with a wide range of long term conditions.

He claimed GPs were good at single disease issues but were part of the problem when it came to organising multidisciplinary packages of care for those with multiple conditions or dementia.

He told HSJ: “Because general practice is isolated from the rest of the system people don’t get the quality of care they deserve. This is a systemic issue: how do we get GPs and other providers to work together better?”

The paper recommends multidisciplinary care management is better incentivised, to drive performance. The report forms part of a wider King’s Fund survey looking at the role of GPs and comes as the Department of Health prepares to publish its national audit of dementia services next month.

In April NHS chief executive David Nicholson wrote to primary care trust chief executives asking them to look at the care pathways of dementia patients.

He cited that National Audit Office research that found 40 per cent of older people admitted to hospital may have dementia.