Dementia to remain a national priority


By Katy Riddick | Friday 28 February 2014

A ‘refresh’ of the National Dementia Strategy, quicker diagnosis and a World Dementia Council

It’s been an exciting week for dementia. Like buses, you wait ages for exciting announcements from Government and then three come along at once!

An update of the National Dementia Strategy

First, on Tuesday the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt stated frankly during Health Question Time in the House of Commons that the National Dementia Strategy is here to stay. Since 2009, the UK has been guided by a National Dementia Strategy that is set to expire this April. Until now, the Government has been tight-lipped about the future of the strategy, and what plans, if any, there were for it to continue. However, there was good news on Tuesday when, without elaboration, Mr Hunt stated that the strategy would be ‘refreshed and updated’ as part of ‘some big new ambitions’ including improvements to diagnosis rates and support for people with dementia and their families.

The National Dementia Strategy was overshadowed in some ways with the introduction of the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge, which launched in 2012 with ambitious goals and a plethora of new funding for research. However, as a number of MPs have begun to remark in Parliament, a commitment to tackling dementia must extend beyond the upcoming election in 2015, and the Dementia Challenge is inexorably tied to the current Government.

Through updating the National Dementia Strategy, a strategic framework for addressing dementia research and care, can be developed with cross-party support and a pledge to continue the battle to defeat dementia.

Pledge to improve diagnosis

Then on Thursday, The Secretary of State for Health announced a £90m fund to help improve diagnosis, with the aim of reducing the wait for diagnosis for people who visit their GP with memory problems from six months in some places to six weeks across the whole country. The government hope this will allow people time to plan and manage the condition, and where appropriate seek the limited number of treatments that can delay symptoms for a short period. This is welcomed news, but it is also important that more is done to improve current diagnosis tools, which at the moment are not 100% accurate.

Earlier diagnosis is also good for research into new treatments, because the earlier people with the condition take part in research the more chance research has of being successful.

World Dementia Council and Dementia Innovation Envoy

We look forward to seeing the impact of these announcements in the coming months and years.

Finally, today we saw the announcement of a World Dementia Council, with the UK Government appointing Dennis Gillings to be the Global Envoy on Dementia Innovation and lead the Council. The countries of the G8 hope the Council will drive private and philanthropic funding toward dementia research and innovation. Gillings is a statistician and CEO, who revolutionised the clinical trial process with his company Quintiles and helped create the clinical research industry as it stands today. Already a billionaire and philanthropist, Gillings’ role as the Dementia Envoy is likely to resemble the Global Envoy on HIV/AIDS, the only other disease area to receive special focus from the G8. He will be tasked with bringing together international expertise and catalysing investment in dementia research, as well as coordinating international efforts

As the age-old idiom goes: ‘talk is cheap’, so we look forward to seeing the impact of these announcements in the coming months and years. At Alzheimer’s Research UK we’re doing our bit to expedite new treatments, with both the establishment of a dedicated Drug Discovery Institute and the launch of a worldwide £3m fund for new drug target discovery, working with MRCT and the pharmaceutical industry. International efforts to develop new treatments that act on the disease processes that cause dementia must be an imperative, as current drugs only paper over the cracks for a short period – people with dementia need better.


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Katy Riddick