OLDER Irish people suffering from Dementia face the added adversity of being ignored by charities, the NHS and policy-makers, a leading group of MPs and Lords has warned.
“As a non-visible minority, the needs of the Irish community are often overlooked by policy-makers and service providers,” the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia said in a report published this week.
Warning that Irish people are “not considered to belong to an ethnic minority”, the group added: “Their needs are assumed to be similar to the white British majority, with no effort made to identify their specific needs or to make special provision to meet those needs.”
Contrary to that assumption, the MPs and Lords found that the Irish in Britain have “distinct traditions and cultural practices that have a profound bearing on the needs of Irish people with Dementia”.
The revelation follows a long-running campaign by the Federation of Irish Societies and The Irish Post to raise awareness of the prominence of Dementia in the Irish community and the need for culturally sensitive services.
This week’s report, entitled “Dementia Does Not Discriminate”, assesses the provision of care for people from Irish, Indian, Pakistani and black Caribbean communities.
Referring to Dementia as “the biggest health and social care challenge facing our society”, it states that more than 800,000 people are currently living with the condition, with the number of sufferers topping 1million by 2021.
And while the number of people in Britain suffering from Dementia is expected to double in the next 40 years, its prominence is expected to surge seven-fold in the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities from its current level of 25,000.
“Society is not geared up to deal with this increase,” the group said. “Currently, people from BAME communities are under-represented in services and they are often diagnosed at a later stage of the illness, or not at all.”
As well as ignoring the specific needs of Irish people, the MPs and Lords reported evidence that some GPs are guilty of stereotyping Irish patients as “drinkers”, leading some Dementia sufferers to avoid their local doctor while the needs of some who do visit their GP are not taken seriously.
“We are finding that a lot of GPs have a stereotypical understanding of Irish people,” said one Irish service provider quoted in the report. “They ask standard questions about alcohol, mental health and things they associate with Irish people.
“So people either don’t tell the doctor, or when they do they are not understood or are stereotyped.”
Another carer said: “For the most part the Irish community will see it as their duty to look after their elders. Daughters, wives and husbands are resistant to the thought of residential care.
“The pressure is internal. It’s in your heart. This is compounded by the fact that residential care does not meet the cultural needs of the Irish people.”
It is believed that the Irish in Britain suffer acutely from Britain because of their age distribution.
According to the 2011 Census, the average age of an Irish-born person living in Britain is 61 and the average of someone of White Irish ethnicity was 53. Both figures significantly outstrip the average age of people from all other large migrant and ethnic groups.
Charlotte Curran from the Federation of Irish Societies had previously given evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia that little is being done at a local level to analyse the health needs of the Irish community.
She also explained that “a sense of insularity has developed among Irish people following the difficult experience of migrating to the UK and this has led to a reluctance to seek help”.
The group makes a series of recommendations for tackling the increased incidence of Dementia among Britain’s ethnic minority communities, including the Irish.
They call on Public Health England to fund a campaign raising awareness of Dementia among ethnic groups and challenging stigma surrounding the condition. Such a campaign, they said, “should be informed by research that considers whether different BAME communities require a different approach”.
The report also calls on the Department of Health to map the provision of services for ethnic minorities across Britain so that successful approaches can be implemented elsewhere. Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups, the group added, must also do more to track the rate of Dementia among BAME communities.
“I regret that there are tens of thousands of people living with Dementia every day who are not getting the services they are entitled to,” said Baroness Sally Greengross, the group’s chair.
“And disproportionately it is people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities who are being failed by the system.”