Straight Talk

George McNamara asks whether the Prime Minister’s new Challenge on Dementia 2020 will go far enough.

George McNamara, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Alzheimer’s Society

Where next for dementia? There is no doubt that the profile of dementia has reached unprecedented heights – but what difference has this made? And more importantly, are people with dementia now able to access the tailored care and support they need and expect?

The publication of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia 2020 outlines a blueprint for the next phase of this country’s effort to combat dementia and improve the lives of people with the condition. Its publication sends a clear signal that while good progress has been made, there is still a lot more to do.

The report, which rightly builds on the first Dementia Challenge published in 2012, sets out an ambition to make England:

  • the best in the world for dementia care and support, and for people with dementia, their carers and families to live; and
  • the best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

These are certainly bold and commendable ambitions and the report goes a long way in laying out how this can be achieved. Rightly, the 2020 document focuses on the importance of diagnosis and post-diagnosis support. The success of many Clinical Commissioning Groups towards increasing diagnosis rates in their area has to be applauded and maintaining this focus going forward will be crucial.

Alongside this, we need to ensure adequate post-diagnosis support is available. Alzheimer’s Society has long campaigned for this commitment to providing meaningful care to all, post-diagnosis. The report doesn’t go as far as we’d like in ensuring everyone has access to a Dementia Adviser or equivalent (a named contact trained to provide expert information, advice and support), but in saying that there should be a minimum provision of care, provides a real opportunity for all of us to contribute to what this means in practice. We should see an end to situations where people are left to fend for themselves during one of the toughest moments of their lives.

Awareness and tackling stigma is another priority area. Alzheimer’s Society also announced that it has created one million dementia friends – people with an improved understanding of the condition who have committed to a social action. This initiative, borne from the experiences of people with dementia who all too frequently lose friends and experience loneliness, really is transforming the way the nation thinks, talks and acts about the condition. As we bypass the one million mark it becomes the biggest ever social movement for any disease. We have now committed to creating a further three million dementia friends by 2020.

Research too is an important area of focus. This strong commitment to support medical research, including a new international dementia research institute and global fund dedicated to dementia, will help to put us in the best possible position to identify treatments that can stop the progression of dementia by 2025.

One key area that was mentioned, but will urgently need to be addressed in the implementation is the importance of accessible social are. At the moment, our chronically underfunded social care system means that people with dementia are struggling to cope with no support from care services; being admitted to hospital unnecessarily and moving into care homes too early when family carers buckle under the massive strain of caring alone.

The report, published in the heat of election campaigning, must soon be followed with an implementation plan and additional resources if it has any chance of becoming a reality. Without this, it will be a well-meaning document that gathers dust as opposed to driving change. We need to see a sensible funding settlement for social care within the Spending Review. We will be holding the Government to account on this.

The importance of this document, and crucially how it is implemented, cannot be underestimated. If our health and social care settings are not delivering dementia friendly care and support, then we will be significantly failing to address one of the major challenges we face with an ageing population. We should not forget: if we get it right for dementia, it is often right for those living with other long-term conditions.

Do you agree with George? What are your thoughts? Add to the debate in the comments below. Subscription required.

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