PM Challenge on Dementia – a year of progress and new promise for research

A new progress report marks a year since the launch of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia.

Posted on 15th May 2013

The launch of a new progress report today marks a year since the launch of the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia. Working across three core strands of improving health and social care, creating dementia friendly communities and research, the Challenge represents the most comprehensive and highest profile efforts yet to tackle dementia. Alzheimer’s Research UK as the UK’s leading dementia research charity contributes significantly to the Research strand of the Challenge, not least through funding 140 pioneering research projects amounting to over £20million. This makes Alzheimer’s Research UK the second largest dementia research charity in the world, and second only to the Government’s Medical Research Council in terms of funding impact in the past year.

The progress report provides an opportunity to look back at developments from the opening year of the Challenge. Some of the key developments include:

  • In research, Alzheimer’s Research UK announced its funding of research had reached the new height of £20m, as well as launching a new Research Strategy to drive towards early detection and treatment;
  • Through the Challenge, the government has committed to double funding available to £66m. This move has been kick-started by more than £22 million of new funding going to 21 clinical and applied health research projects through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The Medical Research Council (MRC) has also invested £4.5m in new programmes seeking to evaluate the use of existing drugs to see whether they will benefit people with dementia;
  • Elsewhere, work to improve care has led to one hundred and forty eight organisations signing up to a “Dementia Care and Support Compact” committing them to providing high-quality personalised care and support for people with dementia – together they care for people with dementia in nearly 3,000 care settings across the country; and
  • We have also seen the launch of the Dementia Friends programme to create one million friends by 2015. Dementia Friends will use their knowledge in day to day life and some will go on to volunteer to support people with dementia in their community.

Today’s progress report launch also provides a platform to look forward, and two key developments have been announced. Firstly the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt has set out plans that will see two-thirds of people with dementia identified and given appropriate support by 2015, an increase from 39 per cent in 2010 and the current average of around 45 per cent. The drive is seeking to end the apparent ‘postcode lottery’ around diagnosis where, in some parts of the country, numbers of people with dementia identified are low and it could mean many not taking advantage of available care and support.

Another exciting development is a new plan announced by David Cameron to harness the UK’s presidency of the G8 to unite global research efforts on dementia. This recognises the UK’s unique resources and expertise as a world-leading expert on dementia research, something Alzheimer’s Research UK recognised in a study of worldwide output last year that formed the Defeating Dementia report. Other countries have recognised the challenge of dementia and introduced action plans, including provision for research, not least the US with investments of £360m and the UK which will double research funding to £66m in the next three years. The UK will convene a September meeting of G8 members specifically to consider opportunities to coordinate individual national efforts into global collaboration.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“We are marking a year when we can finally say that dementia is beginning to get the attention it deserves. The Prime Minister’s Challenge has got people talking about dementia to help chip away at the stigma, and acting on dementia to improve our response to it through research and care. New government funds for research are beginning to come through, and Alzheimer’s Research UK’s own record investment of £20m in pioneering projects are collectively helping to equip our scientists with the means to find answers.”

“We particularly welcome moves to take advantage of the UK’s presidency of the G8 to rally international research efforts against dementia. The UK boasts many of the world’s leading dementia research experts and it is encouraging that we are looking to lead the way in global efforts to defeat dementia. Over 820,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, and an estimated 35.6 million worldwide, and with populations ageing, we are beginning to wake up to our greatest global medical challenge.”

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