At a tipping point – what do party manifestos mean for dementia?

RS924_Alex_Wallace_Photography_ARUK__Rebrand_House_001-324
RS924_Alex_Wallace_Photography_ARUK__Rebrand_House_001-324

By David Thomas | Friday 21 June 2024

Imagine a world where one in two of us will have our lives devastated by dementia – either as a carer, by developing the condition ourselves, or both. Our recent analysis showed that if nothing changes, this is the stark reality facing the UK.

But this isn’t a future we have to accept. Since 1998, Alzheimer’s Research UK has invested over £210 million in pioneering research projects, which is beginning to turn the tide on how dementia is treated, diagnosed and prevented.

We are at a tipping point – to capitalise on scientific developments we must go further and faster. But we can’t do it alone. We need political action to find a cure.

Why this election matters

Researchers are finding new ways of diagnosing the diseases that cause dementia earlier and more accurately through blood tests. Treatments affecting the course of Alzheimer’s disease rather than treating the symptoms, could be approved in the UK this year. And our understanding of how we can reduce our risk of dementia by looking after our brain health continues to grow.

The next government will have a critical five-year window to use these insights and take decisive action on dementia, making the election on Thursday 4 July 2024 one of the most crucial in a generation.

The next five years will not only impact people affected by dementia now – like Des, from Oxford, who lives with dementia with Lewy Bodies. But it’s also an opportunity for laying the foundations for transformative changes benefiting generations to come – like Jordan and Cian, brothers in their twenties, who carry a rare faulty gene linked to frontotemporal dementia.

Having a clear vision of what needs changing and how, is vital. And that’s why we published our manifesto the moment the General Election was called.

Now, every party has shared their vision for the UK – and we’ve outlined what the parties’ pledges might mean for our community.

Manifestos are made to win voters hearts and minds, but we see them as more than that. They are tools for us to hold politicians accountable, should they be elected. In two weeks, no matter who steps into No.10, we, as a united force of campaigners, will demand they stand with us for a cure.

Will you join us?

What the manifestos do – and don’t – say about dementia

Dementia research

Investing in dementia research is a win-win: it makes discoveries leading to advancements for people affected by the condition. It also fuels economic growth, with every £1 invested in dementia research since 2019 returning £2.59 to the UK economy. That’s why it’s critical for political leaders to prioritise this area.

There are range of commitments in different manifestos highlighting the importance of research and development (R&D). And while most commitments aren’t specific to dementia, a focus on research from all parties is welcome.

The Conservatives are gearing up to elevate public R&D spending to £22 billion a year by the end of their term. But it’s not clear how much of this is being earmarked for other areas, such as defence. The Liberal Democrats are aiming for 3% of GDP to be invested into R&D by 2030 and upping that to 3.5% by 2034 – which would put us top of the league table compared to other G7 countries.

The Conservative manifesto also promises to support research into new treatments, including for Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease and secure more commercial clinical trials. Labour recommits to setting out a new industrial strategy, including a plan for the life sciences sector, and pledge to “put Britain at the forefront of transforming treatment for dementia” by opening up more opportunities for people to take part in clinical trials. Right now, only 1% of people who could take part in vital dementia research do so. If this is something you’re interested in, you can find more information here.

Diagnosis

When it comes to diagnosis, the latest waiting times are sobering. It takes on average two years to get a diagnosis, and one in three people living with dementia in England will never even get a formal diagnosis. It’s simply not good enough.

Getting an earlier and accurate dementia diagnosis allows people to access personalised care and support, and to put future plans in place. It’s key to opening up opportunities to take part in research and will be essential if people are to access new, first-of-a-kind treatments that are on the horizon. We’ve been urging the government to embrace innovation within the NHS for a while, and AI is showing huge potential in detecting the early signs of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Labour is promising a ‘Fit for the Future’ fund to double the number of MRI and CT scanners and leverage AI for faster, more accurate diagnoses. Meanwhile, the Conservatives plan to invest in tech that helps clinicians interpret scans more quickly and accurately. They also intend to introduce AI rapidly throughout the NHS.

The NHS workforce is also a hot topic in manifestos, with the Green Party pledging more face-to-face time with GPs, and the Liberal Democrats pledging to support GPs with more training. The Reform UK manifesto also has proposals which seek to tackle workforce shortages and enable faster access to GPs. A GP appointment is often the first step towards a dementia diagnosis, but it’s not always straightforward. We think any future training should aim to help GPs to confidently spot early symptoms of mild cognitive impairment – subtle memory and thinking issues that mustn’t be overlooked – as well as talking to their patients about how they can reduce their risk of developing dementia.

Prevention

Research has shown that up to 40% of dementia cases can be prevented by avoiding risk factors that we can influence, this includes smoking. Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all commit to taking action on cigarettes. They’ve pledged various measures, including a new tobacco levy.

Recent research has also revealed a link between air pollution and a higher risk of developing dementia. The Liberal Democrats pledge to introduce a Clean Air Act, with stricter targets on air pollution levels while the Green Party’s manifesto includes proposals to improve air quality through a mix of taxation and encouraging cleaner public transport.

We know that communities facing the greatest deprivation also have poorer brain health, higher dementia risk, and shorter life expectancies. Labour pledges to “embed a greater focus on prevention throughout the entire healthcare system”. The Liberal Democrats aim to boost healthy life expectancy by five years and plan to establish a ‘Health Creation Unit’ in the Cabinet Office, and a similar approach has been taken by the Green Party.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are continuing their commitment to address prevention through a Major Conditions Strategy, originally announced in 2023 after the previous dementia plan expired in 2020.

Access to new treatments

Having the prospect of lecanemab and donanemab potentially arriving in Great Britain means our work to make sure the NHS can deliver these treatments safely and quickly to people is even more critical.

As well as working to fix diagnosis, a key part of this journey involves supporting Great Britain’s drug regulatory process.

Labour’s manifesto promises to create a new ‘Regulatory Innovation Office’, helping to speed up approval timelines. The Liberal Democrats adopt a similar approach, pledging to expand the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (the organisation that reviews the safety and efficacy of new drugs in Great Britain) capacity. The Conservatives also promise a “nimble” approach to drug approvals. In addition, they say they will remove bureaucratic obstacles to the use of new medicines.

How you can help

Thanks to our campaigners, we’ve already had some fantastic successes in recent years, and we won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Big change happens when many people take small but significant actions and raise their voices in unison. We need all parties to back dementia research and funding, and MPs from all sides to champion our search for a cure. Whoever wins the next election, we need you to add your voice to ours to increase momentum and build on hard won progress with a new government.

Add your voice to a chorus calling for a cure.

By submitting a comment you agree to our comments policy.
Please do not post any personal information about yourself or anyone else, especially any health data or other sensitive data. If you do submit sensitive data, you consent to us handling it in line with our comments policy.

Leave a Comment





About the author

David Thomas