Speaking at the Alzheimer’s Society Conference 2022 on Tuesday 17th May, Sajid Javid confirmed that a new 10-year plan to tackle dementia will be published later this year.
The Health and Social Care Secretary confirmed the 10-year plan will focus on how new medicines and emerging science and technology can be harnessed to improve outcomes for dementia patients across the country. The plan will also focus on supporting people with their specific health and care needs while living with dementia. With the number of people living with dementia predicted to rise to one million by 2025 and 1.6 million by 2040, what must Government’s 10-year plan entail to tackle dementia?
Here and now
Estimates from Alzheimer’s Society suggest that people living with dementia and their families would prefer an immediate response to the reform of dementia diagnosis and care, rather than waiting for the conclusion of Government’s plan. According to the charity, at least 33,000 more people who have dementia would have been diagnosed if the pandemic had not happened. The Health and Social Care Secretary’s speech acknowledged that ‘the pandemic has stemmed the tide of progress.’
We already know that Government plans to spend more than £8bn on tackling the backlog from 2022/23 to 2024/25, supported by a £5.9bn investment in capital – for new beds, equipment and technology. This is in addition to the £2bn Elective Recovery Fund and £700m Targeted Investment Fund (TIF) already made available to systems this year to help drive up and protect elective activity. Individuals and families concerned about emerging dementia symptoms in a loved one or those seeking a diagnosis may be eager to learn what timely steps will be taken to clear the backlog caused by coronavirus, specifically for people living with dementia.
The ‘4 P’s’
Prevention, personalisation, performance and people, the four main themes driving Government’s 10-year plan to tackle dementia, according to the Health and Social Care Secretary. Prevention is the standout ambition of Government’s plan and the Lancet Commission’s theory that 40% of worldwide dementias could be prevented or delayed, adds weight to Government’s responsibility to follow through with its pledges.
The prevention agenda has been at the forefront of Government policy for at least the last decade since the launch of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia in 2012. Sector representatives such as Professor Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England, who was appointed Department of Health Independent Sector Dementia Champion in 2012 and led the development of the Dementia Care and Support Compact, have committed to improving care and support for people with dementia, their carers and families from a national providers’ perspective.
The big picture
The sector will expect the 10-year plan to tackle dementia to intertwine itself seamlessly amongst Government’s wider plans for adult social care reform. For people affected by dementia to experience meaningful change, the Government’s 10-year plan must play its part in the system-wide overhaul proposed by the adult social care reform white paper, the Health and Social Care Integration white paper and the Health and Care Act. Deborah Sturdy, Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care, suggests that Government’s 10-year dementia plan should incentivise its sector-wide reform agenda, ‘not least because dementia overlaps with so many other long-term conditions.’
Current provision must not be neglected
Sajid Javid made some very encouraging comments in his speech during the Alzheimer’s Society Conference on 17th May, including acknowledging the huge physical and emotional cost that the pandemic has cost the social care sector. The Secretary of State also announced a new 10-year ‘dementia’ plan, including reinforcing the commitment to funding £375m research into neurodegenerative diseases, which will hopefully hasten towards preventing up to 40% of dementia diagnoses.
The Health and Social Care Secretary’s comments about the intention for Integrated Care Boards and Integrated Care Partnerships to be directed towards caring for people and keeping them well in the first place is also positive.
However, an assertion that the context for future work on dementia will be much more preventive, professional and joined up is ambitious. With an ageing population, it is currently estimated that 900,000 people are living with dementia in the UK, a figure that is estimated to rise to one million by 2025 in just three years’ time.
The current provision to support people when receiving a dementia diagnosis and in the often emotionally turbulent months afterwards can be at best patchy, and at worst, woefully inadequate. All as an individual and their family begin to navigate their way along an unknown and frequently obscure path towards an undetermined destination.
These people don’t have 10 years on their side to wait for new and innovative support systems. Instead of being regarded as the beginning of the end, a renewed and rapid commitment to training in all areas of the social care sector, for care staff, health practitioners and our regulator, is essential to make sure that people with dementia and their families receive a consistent level of practical information and emotional support.
Of course, continuing research into neurodegenerative diseases is important – even essential as our population continues to age. We must never lose sight of the very real possibility that prevention and eventual cure of many forms of dementia can be a reality. However, research into care and support for people and their families who are already living with the disease is of equal significance if we are to have a real, comprehensive dementia plan.
Jo Crossland, Head of Dementia Care, Avery Healthcare
The time for action is now
In its national healthcare system, the UK has an enormous opportunity to be a world leader in truly integrating research, care and treatment of dementia. Its vital research is included at the heart of the systemic seismic change promised by the Secretary of State.
We’re pleased to see the Government reaffirm the importance of research funding, but we are still waiting two years on for the promised Dementia Moonshot. Funding must be ringfenced for the diseases which cause dementia. Collectively they affect around 900,000 people in the UK and are the number one cause of death in the UK, yet there remain no available treatments here which can stop or slow down their progression.
Emerging technologies such as simple blood tests will soon allow us to detect and diagnose dementia earlier, giving more people access to crucial treatment and support. Earlier diagnosis will be vital to make the most of coming new treatments which slow down the progression of the disease. Sajid Javid’s speech shows an encouraging commitment, but we still have a long way to go to diagnose dementia earlier and find treatments which provide real benefit – we need tangible action and delivery of the Dementia Moonshot promises.
The Secretary of State spoke of the ‘seismic shift’ needed in dementia diagnosis and care and a bold 10-year plan that gives the UK’s largest killer the attention it needs. As he rightly recognises, we are now at a crucial and promising turning point for dementia care and treatment: we will soon have a new 10-year dementia strategy, a revised long-term plan for the NHS in England and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to demonstrate true integrated care. We’re in a stronger position than ever to deliver transformational change to people with dementia.
However, his words will mean nothing if not backed by equally ambitious funding and delivery mechanisms which put people with dementia at their heart, and who need to see tangible change now. For too long Government action has not matched the scale and impact of dementia. We welcome the Secretary of State’s ambitious words, but we must now see this translate quickly into meaningful delivery plans for which ministers should be held accountable.
Dr Richard Oakley, Associate Director of Research, Alzheimer’s Society
Into Perspective: Mental health provision for older people in care
Design for cognitive decline – Supporting people with dementia in care settings
Digital discoveries: Reshaping the future of dementia care