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The Health Secretary’s vision for cancer could be a blueprint for tackling dementia

Following news of a new national 10-year Cancer Plan, Samantha Benham-Hermetz, our Director of Policy and Public Affairs, argues that a similar ambition is needed for dementia research. 

Last week Sajid Javid launched a ‘war on cancer’ with a 10-year plan and new vision to lead the world in cancer care. 

Clearly it is essential for the NHS to tackle the considerable backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and strive for the best possible care for people affected by cancer.   

 

But singling out cancer alone is too narrow a focus. We need to see this same level of ambition applied to dementia, a condition that is now overtaking COVID-19 as the leading cause of death in England and Wales. 

The Health Secretary must be aware that 1 in 4 people who died with COVID-19 also had dementia. Many more have had their condition worsen considerably as a result of the isolation caused by lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, and furthermore, there are tens of thousands of people who are still waiting to receive a dementia diagnosis. Right now, it’s estimated that nearly two in every five people with dementia lack a diagnosis. This matters because a diagnosis could open the door to treatment and support, allow people to plan with their families and offer the chance to be involved in research. 

The Government made an election pledge to double the dementia research funding from £80 million to £160 million per year. Dementia research has been historically underfunded compared to other common health conditions like cancer and heart disease, and through this promised funding we hope to see similar progress made to advance our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s and find new treatments. However, we are yet to see this pledge delivered. 

While this sounds like a huge sum of money, the size of the challenge in dementia needs investment of this scale. Nearly a million people in the UK are living with dementia – and the heartbreaking personal cost of dementia goes hand in hand with huge economic and social costs. Dementia costs our economy £25 billion a year – and is set to be the UK’s most expensive health condition by 2030. We cannot simply sit back and accept this trajectory.  

The rapid development and roll out of the coronavirus vaccines has been a reminder of the power of science and technology to change the world, and people’s lives. It’s time for the Health Secretary to show a similar vision and ambition for breakthroughs in dementia. With renewed focus and leadership, there are great advances on the horizon. Within a few years, we may be able to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, with a simple blood test. And we know that through research, we will find new treatments that will give people longer with their memories, with their independence, and with their loved ones. But with the right investment, that future will come much sooner.   

    

About the author

Samantha Benham-Hermetz

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