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Improved dementia care a priority

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It is with great pleasure that I have accepted the President’s invitation to chair the AMA Committee for Healthy Ageing. 

I want to pay tribute to Dr Peter Ford, who has chaired the committee since 2006. Peter has been tireless in his efforts to secure better arrangements for providing medical care to older Australians outside the doctor’s surgery. He has made himself available to represent the AMA and its members’ interest at countless Government and industry committees on aged care, and to advocate for the most vulnerable members of the Australian community. It is fitting that Peter was awarded the President’s Medal at the recent AMA National Conference.

In his last Australian Medicine column as Chair of the Committee, Peter highlighted the clinical issues that the AMA put to the Senate Community Affairs Committee inquiry into the Living Longer Living Better package of Bills. Unfortunately, the Committee did not see fit to consider the AMA’s recommendations about clinical issues within the context of the aged care reforms.

On a brighter note, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing report Thinking Ahead: Report on the inquiry into dementia: early diagnosis and intervention makes several recommendations related to medical care that the Committee for Health Ageing will need to develop responses to.

These include:

·        Improved general practitioner education and the development of best practice guidelines for the diagnosis of people with intellectual disability, as well as guidelines for the care of dementia patients (recommendations 2, 3 and 10);

·        The implementation of programs for early and timely diagnosis in regional, rural and remote areas using multidisciplinary teams; streamlined local referral pathways for dementia diagnosis, treatment and support; and evaluation of a nation-wide multi-disciplinary approach to dementia diagnosis, treatment and support (recommendations 8, 11 and 12);

·        a review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule to support the assessment and management of dementia in primary care (recommendation 7); and

·        the development of toolkits and guidelines for medical practitioners on planning options for dementia patients (recommendation 6).

The Senate Community Affairs Committee inquiry into the care and management of younger and older Australians living with dementia and behavioural and psychiatric symptoms of dementia is due to report on 12 August 2013.

It will be interesting to see if they come to the same conclusions as their parliamentary colleagues in the other chamber, particularly regarding recommendation 7, which was the main focus of the AMA’s submission to the Senate inquiry.

AMA responses to the outcomes of the two inquiries, and the response of whoever is in government following the forthcoming election, will certainly keep the Committee for Health Ageing occupied over the next year.

Dr Richard Kidd
AMA Committee for Healthy Ageing