Friday, 29 November 2013

Dementia: Concerted international action required to tackle this disease

Dementia and the social care system is one of the biggest issues facing this country and has at heart something that is not going to go away over night, and which unfortunately has no simple remedy.

On the 11th of December the UK is to host the first G8 summit dedicated to dementia. The purpose of the summit is an attempt to spur the world into taking globally-coordinated action to combat the disease. This will be done through identification and agreement of a new approach to dementia research; to help break down barriers to collaboration between and within companies, researchers and clinicians; and finally to secure cooperation needed to reach shared goals faster than nations acting alone.

Those not aware of problem will be surprised by some of the facts. For instance 1-in-3 of people over 65 will develop dementia, there are currently 800,000 sufferers and this will rise to 1,000,000 in 2021 and 1,700,000 by 2050. It costs £23 billion to the UK economy each year – more than cancer, heart disease or stroke, and will rise to £28 billion in the next 4 years.

The reason concerted international action is needed is because dementia will soon be the biggest healthcare burden on earth, with an annual global cost of between £400-600 billion and rising. The thing that is perhaps most notable about dementia is that there is no treatment available to slow down the progress of the disease, let along halt, reverse or cure it. It is a huge challenge and one which will not be solved unless countries, researchers and private sector all work together.

While treatments are currently limited by our knowledge and existing research, there is a responsibility on Government to do what it can to make sure the social care system works, is compassionate and is open to all regardless of means.

On David Cameron's watch, more than £1.8 billion has been cut from local council budgets for older people’s social care since the Government came to power. The system is close to collapse, while care charges have been pushed up further, adding to the cost of living crisis. Councils are doing their best to save money through changing the way care is provided and working more closely with the NHS, but faced with the scale of the cuts many are being forced to slash services and increase charges in order to balance their books.

8 out of 10 councils are now providing care only for those with substantial or critical needs. According to Age UK, as a result of tightening eligibility criteria 800,000 people in the UK have a care need but are not getting any support. This is not a good record, and I think Cameron needs to rethink his approach – bold statements and global summits are undermined if the bodies which are charged with delivering dementia care are under resourced.