Government’s missed opportunity on research funding leaves dementia community disappointed

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By David Thomas | Thursday 28 October 2021

Dementia is one of the biggest health challenges of our lifetimes. This week the UK government had the chance to rise to that challenge and give hope to the nearly 1 million people living with dementia across the country.

But in its Comprehensive Spending Review this week – where the government set out its spending proposals for the duration of this parliament – it announced plans to provide £95 million to deliver its Life Sciences Vision, but made no mention of dementia.

By not including its 2019 general election promise to double dementia research funding, the government has missed a huge opportunity.

 

We need to go further to build on recent progress

One in three people born today will go on to develop dementia in their lifetime yet there are currently few treatment options for people diagnosed with the condition.

Increasing dementia research funding to £160 million a year, in line with the government’s election pledge, would have made a profoundly positive impact on efforts to make the breakthroughs we need to bring about life-changing treatments. And it would have given hope to those with dementia and their loved ones.

Researchers have made tremendous progress in recent years in improving our understanding of the diseases that cause dementia, but we need to go further. Urgent action is required now, and that makes the absence of any additional funding for dementia research in today’s announcement all the more concerning.

The government’s Life Sciences Vision includes dementia as one of its healthcare missions along with cancer, obesity and mental health, so it’s absolutely vital that some of this money is used to support dementia research.

 

Dementia research lags behind

Dementia research is already lagging some way behind other comparable diseases when it comes to government funding.

The economic impact of dementia to our society each year is £26 billion, more than cancer and chronic heart disease combined, with over 80% of the cost carried by social and informal care.

In 2017/18, government investment in dementia research was just £82.5m, equivalent to 0.3% of the total annual cost of dementia. By contrast, government funding for cancer research stood at £269 million in 2015/16 – 1.6% of cancer’s £16.4 billion annual cost to the UK.

It is right that research for other serious diseases receive significant amounts of funding. We also recognise the challenges to public spending caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But people affected by dementia deserve better.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the role government can play in harnessing the power of research to address a major health challenge. We need it to adopt a similar approach to dementia, and an increase in dementia research funding must be a vital part of that.

 

Encouragement for dementia diagnosis

While it is disappointing the spending does not include any added investment for dementia research, there was some encouragement for dementia diagnosis as the Chancellor announced £2.3 billion for increased diagnostic capacity and £2.1 billion to support the innovative use of digital technology.

The importance of addressing delays relating to cancer and heart disease were mentioned in the build up to this week’s announcement, but the growing dementia diagnosis backlog needs urgent attention and must be a key priority.

A timely diagnosis is crucial for people with dementia and their loved ones as it allows them to access the care and support they need, and plan for the future. It also gives them the chance to take part in clinical research. This can be a positive experience for those taking part but there are wider benefits too – getting more people involved in clinical research improves the chances of success in trials for potential new treatments.

We desperately need that investment in diagnostic capacity and technological innovation to clear the dementia diagnosis backlog and reduce these delays right away. Improving dementia diagnosis can also help prepare the health service to deliver new treatments as and when they are available.

 

Thanks to our campaigners for their outstanding efforts

Our campaigners have played an enormous role in drawing the government’s attention to the urgent need for more funding for dementia research. We can’t thank you enough for your outstanding efforts.

More than 50,000 of you made your voices heard by signing our petition. And by writing to your MPs urging them to hold the government to account over their manifesto pledge, you have emphatically demonstrated how much increased funding means to people affected by dementia.

More investment is key to making the breakthroughs we need to find a cure for dementia, and we will continue to press the government to take urgent action.

To stay up to date and help us keep dementia research on the political agenda, sign up for our Campaigner emails.

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David Thomas