Nurses ‘central’ to new plans to improve Alzheimer’s diagnosis

Nurses could be “central” to delivering changes in the way that Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed in the UK, as part of a new partnership between NHS trusts.

Four leading NHS trusts have come together with pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, plus support from Dementias Platform UK and the Trials Delivery Framework, to try and improve diagnosis of the condition.

The trusts involved in the new partnership are Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals Sussex NHS Trust and Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Trust.

The main objective of the partnership is to improve diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease by increasing capability and capacity of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis – more commonly known as a lumbar puncture.

A lumbar puncture involves a needle being inserted into the lower back, between the bones in your spine, and can help to diagnose diseases and conditions affecting the brain and spinal cord.

Lumbar puncture used to fall within the remit of junior doctors but, now, advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs) can carry out the procedure.

In the partner’s joint working agreement report, seen by Nursing Times, it said that increasing CSF analysis capacity in trusts would likely increase the chances of earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, which in turn will provide better access to interventions and support.

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In addition, expanding testing could reduce inequality of access to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, said the report.

It comes as trusts have reported and identified a “major unmet need for CSF” testing provision.

Dr Ross Dunne, a consultant psychiatrist at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, noted the important role that nurses could have in the rollout of this increased testing.

He said: “Making CSF based diagnostics for Alzheimer’s available to as many people as possible is a national priority.

“This is important in an era when more and more people are aware of the need to seek help at the earliest signs of cognitive problems.

“With appropriate training, nurses will play a critical role in delivering CSF testing, helping us to prepare the NHS to deliver diagnostic services fit for the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, Laura Steele, president and general manager of Lilly UK, said: “Receiving an accurate and timely diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease can give people and their loved ones clarity and help them access the best possible support and care.

“We are proud to be embarking on this journey with our NHS partners to change this reality for more people across the UK.”

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