Dementia Research in the UK

– in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 10th February 2022.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 2:48 pm, 10th February 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered dementia research in the UK.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this important debate, the all-party parliamentary group on dementia, of which I am the co-chair with the wonderful Baroness Sally Greengross, and the Alzheimer’s Society for all its work to support the APPG. I also thank the many Members who agreed to sponsor the debate, although being just before recess it is obviously a difficult slot to fill.

Dementia is one of the biggest health challenges that we face today. It is the UK’s biggest killer and, with an ever-aging population, the number of people living with dementia in the UK and around the world is set to grow. Indeed, figures from the Alzheimer’s Society show that around 900,000 people are currently living with the condition in the UK, and that number is set to grow to 1.3 million by 2030. There will be few of us who do not know somebody who is either living with dementia or affected by it.

That includes me. My mum was 64 when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and unfortunately she died 10 years later. The work I do on the APPG is in her memory, and in recognition that there are millions of families affected by dementia and who are currently caring for people they love who have one of the many degenerative brain diseases that cause dementia. We frequently talk about dementia as though it was just one disease, but it is not. Dementia is a set of symptoms, but there is an array of degenerative brain diseases that make up dementia, of which Alzheimer’s disease is probably the best known.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

My hon. Friend talks movingly about her mum. My mum also had frontotemporal dementia as the cause on her death certificate in 2017, 10 days before polling day—thanks, mum! Towards the end they have a mixture of intransigence, stubbornness, regression and paranoia. A minibus from Ealing Council used to come and take her to a memory clinic in Acton, but it was largely old chaps playing dominoes, and that was not really her scene. She loved entertaining, and it was so sad that someone who used to cook for so many forgot how to swallow by the end. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as the shocking “moonshot” that we were promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, which has never happened, research should look at culturally and gender-appropriate solutions to this awful disease? As she says, so many of us know people who are afflicted by it.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I thank my hon. Friend, who makes a powerful point about her own experience with her mum’s frontotemporal dementia and the importance of ensuring that we understand, from different cultural perspectives and different ethnicities, the impact of dementia and how we care for our loved ones who have it.

I want this debate to be about hope. That is so important. My hon. Friend has just spoken about her mum, and it was very hard for my mum. She could not speak and could barely move. She could not feed herself. It was a very sad state. However, there is huge optimism and reasons for hope, and that is what I want this debate to be about. I firmly believe that, as with many other conditions, research will find a cure for dementia.

We have one of the best life sciences sectors in the world, as we have seen over the past few years with the work that the University of Oxford and others have undertaken with the covid vaccination programme. Our researchers are rarely talked about, but they are our unsung heroes and we should be immensely proud of the work they do and the significant contribution they make to the economy. I believe it is a matter of when, not if, we will see the breakthroughs that are desperately needed for therapies in dementia research.

However, that is fundamentally dependent on adequate investment. Despite the ever-increasing prevalence of dementia, research into it is consistently and disproportionately underfunded. There is news from the United States of treatments such as aducanumab, which has just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is expected to help people when they are diagnosed with dementia. This is a great and exciting opportunity for the Government to support the field and cement the UK’s place as a world leader in dementia research.

As my hon. Friend has just mentioned, we know that during the 2019 general election the Conservative party promised to double dementia research funding from £83 million to £166 million a year over a 10-year period—the “dementia moonshot”. Similarly, the Labour party has committed to that. We have cross-party consensus, but we are still waiting for the Government to bring forward any of that additional funding. Last year, in fact, there was a 10% fall in the amount of funding provided to dementia research, so it received only £75 million instead of £83 million. That is a huge missed opportunity to expand our research capabilities in that area, to support the inspiring academics working in the field and to provide hope to the millions of people affected by dementia across the UK. It also does not make economic sense, as I will move on to later.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

My mum died of dementia at the start of the covid outbreak. She formed a great attachment to Madam Deputy Speaker, of whom she was very fond, and Madam Deputy Speaker was very fond of her. Her name was Marion. She went from being a sparkling presence to somebody who, at the start of the pandemic, was locked in for her own protection and I was not able to go and see her. I had never before understood the whole idea of somebody turning their face to the wall, but she just stopped eating and drinking, and within a week, she was dead. I hope that when the story of the pandemic is written, we will remember all those people who died because of it and who will never be recorded as having died of covid. They died through loneliness, which is so important for us all to remember.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

Order. May I interrupt to say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that his mother was a sparkling presence and a lovely lady? I was very fond of her and it is tragic that he has lost her. We all feel it very deeply with him.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I similarly add my sincere condolences to the hon. Member. I could not agree more with his sentiments. It does affect everybody and it is moving to hear how different hon. Members have been affected by their loved ones. I want to provide hope as well, and I hope that what I go on to say will provide a bit of comfort to him. We must do more on it, though, must we not?

The Government have said that we can expect to see their plans on dementia research in the national dementia strategy. I am grateful to see the Minister in his place, because we have worked together on dementia in the past and I know that he feels as passionately about it as I do. Given that there has been a real hiatus from the manifesto in 2019 to where we are now, and that we have actually slipped backwards, I would be grateful if he could commit to discussions with the Treasury about an announcement in the spring statement next month. That is way overdue and we must provide hope to hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the success of previous Governments in the last 15 years. We had our first dementia strategy in 2009. My right hon. Friend, now the Mayor of Greater Manchester, was the author of that fine strategy. We must also pay tribute to the former Prime Minister David Cameron for his work on it. He managed to increase dementia research from just over £28 million to £82 million during his incumbency. Government-led initiatives, such as his challenge on dementia, establishing the UK Dementia Research Institute, and leading the world during our 2014 G8 presidency by hosting the world’s first dementia summit, put us on a good footing to lead the world in this field. We need to build on that, but as I say I fear we are slipping backwards.

I mentioned the importance and urgency of fulfilling that commitment, but I also want to stress the economic argument. We heard last week, in the Government’s levelling-up White Paper, about the huge potential economic benefits of investing in research and development, particularly in the life sciences. Our life sciences sector in the north-west, spanning from Liverpool all the way to Hull, has magnificent research institutes and organisations. We know that extra Government investment acts as a catalyst to unlock private funding. A study conducted by Oxford Economics in 2020 found that each £1 of public money—Government money—is at least doubled. If we look at what that would mean for dementia research, a moonshot investment of £800 million over the next decade could unlock £1.6 billion to £1.8 billion of additional private investment. This is an answer to the levelling-up issue to which the Government have said they are committed. I urge them. This is a source of addressing some of the issues they are facing on that particular policy promise.

It was because of the lack of Government movement on the issue that last year the all-party parliamentary group decided to undertake a dementia research inquiry. As well as making the case for the moonshot, the resulting report, “Fuelling the Moonshot”—do look at it on the Alzheimer’s Society website—set out how the money could be best used to support the sector. Throughout the inquiry, we sought to look at the entire dementia research system. It is important to recognise that, when we talk about dementia research, we do not just mean exploring for cures and treatments, although that is obviously vital; it is also about researching diagnostic methods, how dementia can be prevented and exploring how people with dementia can best be cared for.

Over the course of the inquiry, we took written and oral evidence from hundreds of people living with and affected by dementia, academics, charities, research institutes and research participants. I thank everybody who took part. We could not have produced the quality report we did without their input. They ranged from Exeter, where researchers are investigating how we can improve the quality of life for people with dementia, to Edinburgh, where leading academics are researching the links between dementia and head traumas in sport. What we found was a rich, diverse and passionate set of people working tirelessly to improve the lives of people with dementia and their families, but they need our support and they need Government support.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

I was not going to speak today because of a clash with a Bill Committee, but I have been asked by several constituents to come in to listen to the debate. The hon. Lady is putting forward a persuasive case. I want briefly to pay tribute to the hidden army of carers across the UK: the current estimate is that there are about 6.5 million of them. They are perhaps saving the Treasury over £100 billion in lost wages. Does she agree that we should do more to increase carer’s allowance and to formally recognise those very selfless and diligent people?

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. I am very grateful to him for coming here. I agree totally with the points he has made to acknowledge the army of family carers who support people living with dementia and the fact that they are supported by a pittance. We need to do much, much more in that regard.

I was coming on to talk about the importance of the work of charities such as Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society. About half of all the research undertaken is as a result of the funding raised by the Alzheimer’s Society. As many would expect, like other charitable sectors, medical research charities were hit particularly hard as a result of the pandemic. The Association of Medical Research Charities estimated that the pandemic has caused a shortfall of UK medical research investment of at least £310 million. That huge loss of income has of course impacted on funding decisions for these charities. The Alzheimer’s Society had planned to fund two research calls last year, but it was unable to do so because of its financial situation. The same thing was felt across the entire research community. An Alzheimer’s Society survey found that 85% of researchers reported that the pandemic had led to fewer funding opportunities being available for them.

Similarly, like those in nearly every UK sector, dementia researchers have been hard hit by the effects of the pandemic. For many, lockdowns meant that their labs had to close and participants could no longer take in part in trials. I spoke to a researcher in Manchester who had spent months growing brain cells for her research, only for them to have to be thrown away—months of work wasted. The pandemic also had an impact on the work of researchers who worked outside labs. For example, it affected those working in areas that require face-to-face contact with participants—including people with dementia—such as drug, clinical and care intervention trials.

Understandably, many clinical staff were redeployed to work in the frontline NHS throughout the pandemic, and that heavily impacted on the progress of dementia research. An Alzheimer’s Society survey from April 2021 found that almost a quarter of its funded researchers said that they or another team member had been redeployed in the NHS or in frontline services during the pandemic. We know that much of the clinical research that is undertaken depends on the effective clinical running of routine NHS dementia services, and many of those were seriously affected during covid.

One area I was particularly concerned to hear about during the inquiry was the impact of the pandemic on early career researchers. These are researchers who are at the PhD or post-doctoral stage of their careers. For many of them, much of their time and focus is taken up with concerns about where their funding will come from, or whether they will be able to progress any further. One researcher told the all-party group that

“typical…contracts go on for 3 years, and you have to spend a lot of your time in year 3 applying for your next tranche of funding—affecting your productivity.”

She went on to say that

“instead of concentrating on research, academics are having to worry about their mortgage.”

Of course, that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

There was a concern that having to suffer a break in their research left today’s early career researchers uncompetitive in the job market. There is a fear among those researchers that, when they apply for funding for the next stage of their career, they will not be looked on as favourably as others. In May 2021, the Government announced a fund of £20 million to support those charity-funded ECRs. I would be grateful if the Minister, in his closing remarks, responded to the recommendation that we made in our inquiry report on how we can further support these important researchers, without whom we will not see the next breakthroughs. They are absolutely vital and should not be overlooked.

Throughout my time as co-chair of the all-party group, and particularly during the inquiry, I have been lucky enough to hear at first hand from people living with dementia, and from their families. During the inquiry, I spoke to inspiring people who live with dementia or who have cared for people with dementia, and who gave up their time to participate in dementia research. I was struck by the sense of empowerment that this gave them. They know that the activities that they are undertaking may not help them directly, but they recognise that the research may support better care, treatments and even a cure for someone in the future.

To ensure that the UK is a world leader in dementia research, we must be able to attract participants to take part in trials. As one research participant put it:

“Too often research feels something that is just done to someone, rather than something that people can be a part of.”

People often do not know how they can be involved in dementia research. I want to draw everyone’s attention to Join Dementia Research UK. I encourage everyone, including hon. and right hon. Members, to sign up to it. It can link them up to research projects happening across the UK, and that is how we will help to make progress. The service is currently trialling writing to people with dementia after their diagnosis to invite them to participate in research. I would be grateful if the Minister said a little bit about how his Department could support Join Dementia Research UK with its pilot and help to roll it out.

Former England rugby union player Ben Kay is one such research participant who has also taken part in our inquiry. He has spoken quite openly about how important it is for him to be involved in the Alzheimer’s Society’s funded research programme that investigates the links between rugby and dementia. I am sure many Members here will be familiar with this not just in rugby, but in football. Nobby Stiles springs to mind, but we also know that Bobby Charlton, a particular hero of mine, has been affected. We need to understand head trauma in all forms of sport: not just those that use the different shaped balls that boys in particular play on football and rugby fields, but other sports as well. That issue, the Minister will know, has been of growing interest, particularly in the media. Again I would be grateful if he said how, with his cross-departmental work, he has been able to support this. Extra funding through the moonshot could really expand our knowledge of that area, so we can ensure that everybody can participate in sport safely. It is also important to ensure that people understand the risks and what steps they can take to minimise them, which is another area of research being undertaken.

One of the most exciting areas in dementia research at the moment is diagnosis. There is a real prospect that very soon we could see blood biomarker tests readily available to help to ensure people receive not just an accurate, but an early diagnosis, and I am talking many decades before we actually see the physical, behavioural and cognitive symptoms that we are familiar with in dementia. These can be cheap and easy to administer, much like the countless other blood tests that happen day in, day out. Again, I would be very grateful if the Minister responded on how we can make sure that, as those come on line, we can make them readily available.

Before I close my remarks, I would like to highlight some of the excellent research already taking place in the UK, particularly through the UK Dementia Research Institute. Set up 2017, this is the biggest investment the UK has ever made in dementia, thanks to the £290 million donation from founding funders the Medical Research Council, the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. I met the director of the institute during the inquiry and heard of the important work that it is doing.

The UKDRI has over 650 researchers working towards treatments and technologies to improve the lives of people living with dementia, with sites across all parts of the UK, including London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. The director, Professor Bart De Strooper, estimated that about a third of his researchers had been attracted to the UK from other parts of the world because of its infrastructure and research capabilities. That shows what a leading role the UK can be proud to play in this area—a world leader. With the Government funding for UKDRI running up to 2023, at which point progress will be reviewed, it is important that this vital asset in the UK’s dementia research system is supported to continue its work. We are only a year away from that, so I hope the Minister is able to say more about that.

There is also great research happening across the UK in the area of care research. We heard from Professor Dame Louise Robinson, who leads an Alzheimer’s Society-funded centre of excellence in Newcastle University. These centres of excellence, which also have sites in Exeter and London, bring together leading researchers to investigate how people with dementia can best be cared for. I am conscious of the interventions that hon. Members made earlier. That research is valuable to those people who currently have dementia in looking at how we can make sure they are properly cared for.

What is concerning is that, although there is a plethora of evidence of how effective care research is, it is not being used. In contrast to the principle of evidence-based medicine and evidence-based care, it is not actually being used, which is staggering. Again, I would be very grateful for the Minister’s thoughts on that. Can I just mention this figure? In a review of 170 training manuals for person-centred care in dementia, researchers found that just four—four—provided evidence about what methods worked when tested in a research setting. That is what we are using to train our carers. There is an evidence base, yet it is not being used to underpin that training. We need to do much better on that.

The UK has come a long way in improving our dementia research sector, but it is imperative that we build on that. People living with dementia and their families deserve to see the Government delivering on their general election commitment to dementia moonshot funding and leadership in dementia research such as we saw with the covid vaccine development. I urge the Minister to liaise with the Treasury in the run-up to the spring statement next month and to deliver for the dementia research community and for the country. We can be a world leader in the field, but that will need the Government to fulfil their commitments.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham 3:15 pm, 10th February 2022

I thank Debbie Abrahams for a first-class introduction to the debate. Dementia is an awfully debilitating condition. We all have many constituents who have asked us to pay attention to it and to attend the debate. I have been asked to speak and consider it a duty to do so.

My mother died while suffering from dementia. It was horrid to see a dynamic, wonderful person reduced so greatly that she did not even recognise my sister, who had cared for her. I totally sympathise with the description given by my friend John Nicolson of what happened to his mother. My mother was lonely, she was lost, and it was terrible—a terrible end for her.

As we have heard, the UK has 850,000 dementia sufferers, and it gets so much worse once we are beyond 65. I reckon that roughly one in 70 of the population have dementia. One thing that really strikes me about dementia—it is a vivid image—is how often dementia sufferers are so frightened. I gather—I have not seen it—that they are particularly frightened when they walk into a room with a dark carpet or mat on the floor. They shrink back, because they think it is a hole that would devour them.

I pay tribute to the people who look after those suffering with dementia. That is not just formal carers; it is normally the family. Everyone who has experience of dementia sufferers knows that those carers do so much for those people whom they love, yet they do not get recognition for it. They are looking after someone whom they care about but get no response. It is really difficult. It asks one hell of a lot of people to keep doing it, but, my goodness, they do, often for no money whatsoever; it is simply because of love and what the person was before.

I am pleased to have been briefed by the Alzheimer’s Society, and I am now what it calls a dementia friend. May I urge all colleagues to take the Alzheimer’s Society’s “Dementia Friends” course? I did it in my office. It takes about half an hour. People come and explain about dementia. We may all think we know it, but let people come and talk about it. Then, the more of us who know what it is like and can talk about it, the more of us who can influence Government and the more we can help those poor devils who suffer from dementia and those people who, by extension, are affected so deeply by dementia because they have to look after dementia sufferers.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons) 3:20 pm, 10th February 2022

I congratulate my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams on securing and leading today’s important debate, and I have enjoyed all the contributions. I thank her for the work of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia, which she co-chairs, and the excellent report it published last year on dementia research. The report rightly sets out the need for the Government to honour their commitment and bring forward the dementia moonshot funding as soon as possible. The report also sets out some of the key challenges the sector is facing and where that additional funding could be best used. I know that the Government are currently working on a new national dementia strategy, and I hope that the Minister will use the APPG’s report in its development.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend in her opening contribution: dementia is one of the biggest health challenges facing us today. There are currently 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia. In my city, there are already around 2,690 people living with dementia, and that figure is expected to grow to more than 3,800 by 2030. It is one of the consequences of our ageing population. Dementia does not just affect those who have the condition; it also has a profound impact on family, carers and loved ones. Many, if not all of us know someone who is facing the challenges of living with dementia, and we owe it to them and their families to do what we can to make life that bit easier in the future.

As we all know, there is currently no cure for dementia. Finding a cure must be a key aim, but it is not the only one; we must also invest in research to explore how people with dementia can best be treated and cared for. Dementia is a progressive condition, with the symptoms likely to get worse over time. That has severe implications for family members providing care. I take this opportunity to highlight the work of the Centre for Dementia at the University of Nottingham, based in the Institute of Mental Health. It is addressing precisely that issue. The centre’s mission is to improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers through high-quality, useful research, looking at how people with dementia spend their time and what can help them to get the maximum quality from life.

The University of Nottingham is an excellent example of what can be achieved when there is investment in research, and I know from the Alzheimer’s Society, and from what my hon. Friend said, that there are similar programmes in Exeter and Newcastle. She highlighted their centres of excellence. I hope that the Government will work closely with the charitable funders of dementia research and look to replicate those best practice examples. That is very important for improving healthcare, but that investment in research and development, particularly when it is targeted outside of London, can provide real benefits to places such as Nottingham.

Since the pandemic began, we have seen what can be achieved by our life sciences sector when it has the funding, the leadership and the clarity of purpose it needs. The huge advances we have seen in the last decade around dementia research—whether that is the creation of world-leading research institutions, such as the UK Dementia Research Institute, or the vast increase in the number of people attracted to the UK to do dementia research—have all come about because of increased targeted funding and a national strategy to bring together charities, academics and private investors. It is worrying that the state of the UK’s dementia research sector is now at risk. To be honest, it is deeply disappointing that the Government, two years on from their initial promise of a moonshot, have not yet brought forward the funding. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will set out a timetable for when that will be delivered and confirm that the new strategy will be ambitious about what can be achieved.

One point that really struck me when reading my hon. Friend’s report was the impact of the pandemic and the lack of secure funding on researchers. It is clear from the report and researchers’ testimonies that for many of them this is not just a job but a vocation. Not only are they passionate about science, but many also have a personal link to dementia. Their motivation is to find a cure or treatment, or to improve the lives of people living with dementia, but even before the effects of the pandemic, which shut down many labs and prevented people from properly carrying out their work, it is clear that there was a career bottleneck, causing many researchers to leave the field.

There is no shortage of talent among dementia researchers in the UK, but there is a leaky pipeline. New cohorts of doctoral students are often encouraged to enter dementia research without the funding in place to ensure that they can continue and progress into post-doctoral research. Will the Minister tell us what is being done in the upcoming strategy to address that pipeline—to ensure that our talented researchers do not have to move abroad to continue their work or, worse still, leave the field altogether? I know that the Government gave £20 million last year to support charity-funded researchers, but that is far from what was promised; they must do more.

How can we ensure that more people with dementia and their carers can participate in research? As part of the 2020 dementia challenge, the Government set out an ambition for 25% of people living with dementia to be registered with Join Dementia Research, which my hon. Friend mentioned. However, just 2% of people living with dementia in England have registered on the site, despite the policy being written into NHS commissioning guidance and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. Attracting the world’s best researchers and private investment relies on us as a country being able to show that we can get the right number and right type of participants taking part in research, so what are the Government doing to encourage and enable that? Of course, it is about not just the benefit to the academic research, but the benefit to participants themselves; the report details how being involved in research can provide a sense of empowerment.

My final point today is about prevention. We simply are not doing enough to communicate to the public what every one of us can do to prevent dementia—reducing our risk by keeping ourselves healthy. One of the key slogans about brain health is “healthy heart, healthy brain.” Cardiovascular problems all increase the risk of memory loss, thinking problems and dementia, but it is never too late in life to reduce those risks.

There are 12 modifiable risk factors for dementia, including smoking, alcohol consumption, exposure to pollution and traumatic brain injury. Cutting out or reducing those risk factors can reduce the likelihood of developing dementia, but despite clear research in this area, Alzheimer’s Research UK’s 2018 dementia attitudes monitor showed that just 34% of people thought that they could reduce their risk of developing dementia—far behind the equivalent figures for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, which were 81% and 77% respectively. If people do not believe that they can do something about it, they will clearly not take the actions that they could. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing to improve the health information provided to the public? Will that form part of the new national dementia strategy?

In conclusion, it is obvious that we have a wonderful, rich and diverse dementia research sector in the UK. We have passionate, dedicated academics who work tirelessly to improve the life of people with dementia, and of their families and carers. We have clearly come a long way. We have built terrific infrastructure, and have world-leading facilities, but just as dementia does not stop progressing, neither should we. We have to build on this, particularly given the impact that the pandemic has had on the field. We must offer opportunities and support to academics. If we do not, we are at risk of wasting all the great work done over the past decade. We must not allow that to happen, particularly when there are new, exciting developments that will drastically improve the life of people with dementia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth said, we have to provide hope. The Government must bring forward a plan for delivering the moonshot funding as soon as possible. I look forward to the Minister giving us some hope when he responds.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee 3:30 pm, 10th February 2022

It is always a pleasure to follow Lilian Greenwood. I join her in thanking Debbie Abrahams for securing the debate, and for all her work as joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia.

It is real pleasure to contribute to the debate on dementia research in the UK. As the hon. Member for Nottingham South said, Dementia affects around 944,000 people in the UK, which is 1.33% of the population, and also takes them away from us, sometimes too early. It was the leading cause of death in December 2021, when dementia and Alzheimer’s accounted for 12.4% of all deaths. In 2021, when we were rightly fixated on covid and its impact, covid accounted for 5.4% of deaths. Frankly, we do not talk enough about dementia and what it does. Perhaps if we talked more about the impacts, people might join us in pressing for more change. As the hon. Member said, funding for research is relatively low. Cancer attracts three times as much, despite the statistics I have just given.

All that matters very much to me as MP for Bexhill and Battle, because there are 2,413 people in the constituency living with dementia. That is 2.34% of all my constituents. Of our 650 constituencies, mine has the second highest number of constituents living with dementia. I thank everyone, both in my constituency and across the country, who cares for those living with dementia, and I send my best wishes to all those who have dementia. I want to press for more, so that we get a better deal for those with dementia, and for those who are so selfless and give so much in looking after them, whether they are doing so through their employment or because the person they are looking after is a loved one.

On local interaction, I am very lucky, because we have built up a good deal of expertise through our links in East Sussex. My office team have been trained as dementia friends, thanks to the Alzheimer’s Society. That has helped me to engage a lot better with constituents who face personal challenges. When I was first elected in 2015, I went to a specialist dementia care home in Heathfield. We MPs do not get training for that type of thing—or for many other things—so I asked the matron running the unit, “How do I deal with it when something occurs?” Her advice was: “Just go into the same world as them. Don’t be embarrassed; just go there and be part of it.” I have remembered that advice and followed it ever since. We have ended up doing some very funny things, but I have never once felt silly; I felt as though I was engaging and having fun, and that has stayed with me.

I am really lucky with all our care homes and specialist units. I absolutely love to watch young children come from the schools to read to those in the care homes. Of course, some residents have difficulties with their short-term memory, but some of them have an extraordinary long-term memory. I remember one lady in Battle who did not contribute, but then stood up and recited, without a flaw, “I wandered lonely as a cloud”. It was an incredibly moving moment. The children were shocked, and I will always remember it.

Next week, I will visit a local charity, Young at Heart, where there is a lovely connection between young people from schools and preschools, and those who are older.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I myself remember starting to dance with an old lady, and the dance was endless. It was one ballroom dance, then another, a third and a fourth. Finally, the care home attendant had to come and take me away, and he said, “She is a former professional dancer. She will dance with you all afternoon, unless we stop.” Is there a problem that people are scared of folk with dementia? Should we be teaching dementia awareness, which the hon. Gentleman raised, at schools?

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Chair, Transport Committee, Chair, Transport Committee

The hon. Member is absolutely right. I feel that a lot of us are scared. Actually, a lot of hon. Members are perhaps scared that they are making a fool of themselves, but they are not. They are making their constituents happy that they are there with them. I have done something very similar to the hon. Gentleman. It is right to teach young people about dementia in schools and almost require every single school to have that partnership, to encourage young people to feel as if they can let go. It is an excellent suggestion. I hope the Minister heard it and will take it into account.

We are fortunate to have local pioneers. Mention has been made of ensuring that people get tested, because early intervention can help a great deal. A year or so ago, I visited a pioneering local memory assessment service based in Bexhill, which supports patients with dementia across both my constituency and the wider East Sussex coast. Dr Stephen French, who leads the memory assessment service, is a GP, which makes the service quite novel. I took part in a memory assessment test and went all the way through it myself, to see exactly what those who participate have to undertake and how difficult it is.

The service has been running for seven years and has proved successful with local residents. What is great about it is that it is a community-based dementia service, so anyone presenting with a memory problem will be seen by their local GP in the first instance. After they have gone through other causes of memory loss, such as depression or circulatory disease, they will be referred to a local dementia specialist for a full assessment, at a GP close to their home. So, they could be having that difficult test with their own GP. That means that those who are already worried about memory loss are able to go into setting with which they are more familiar. It is less intimidating than going to a hospital or mental health hospital, which is where such tests sometimes take place. Unsurprisingly, it means more people will take up the offer and attend the test. That is hugely important for a constituency such as mine, where there are so many people who are impacted.

When the test is positive, that comes as a great shock to both the individual and their family, but with this particular service, two weeks after diagnosis patients receive a visit from a local dementia support worker to see how they are getting on and to discuss the range of support services available to them. Then there is aftercare, followed up by a medical review to see how the patient is coping and to assess the effectiveness of any medication. Their pathway then comes back into their own GP service, so it becomes one of the conditions that they are being treated for.

As well as talking about research, which I will go on to mention, I feel that we have to encourage early diagnosis in a local setting, and we have to take away the stigma of it. That comes back to the point made by John Nicolson around interacting. There is also a stigma about going to have the tests. I would encourage any colleague of mine to go and have the test, in the same way that I have. It is incredibly insightful.

Let me return to the main thrust of this debate, which is about research. I agree with the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth that this debate should be about hope. I agree with her that research will find that cure, and I agree with her that it is a case of “when”, not “if”, but I also agree with her that it requires continued funding of the amazing life science and research sector with which we are blessed in this country. I particularly note the UK Dementia Research Institute, which was set up in 2017. Its main hub is at University College London, but there are six other centres across the UK, funded by the Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. It will be doing the job to deliver the moonshot cure that the hon. Member talked about, but it will require a good chunk of the £5 billion committed in the 2021 spending review to go into research on dementia.

I am encouraged by the Government’s track record. In the five-year plan in 2015, the Challenge on Dementia, there was a commitment to spend £300 million by March 2020. In fact that amount was spent by March 2019, and it was £344 million. So the track record is there, but there were some bold pledges in my own 2019 manifesto on what we would do as a party to help deliver that cure for dementia. Let me say to the Minister—I know that he cares deeply about this issue—that if he needs any help at all in trying to strong-arm as much of that budget as possible towards dementia, he will always have a friend in me.

It has been a pleasure to speak in the debate. This is an issue that affects so many of my constituents—so many wonderful people who care or who suffer. I am delighted that we have secured the debate, and have raised the flag for them.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West 3:41 pm, 10th February 2022

I congratulate Debbie Abrahams on securing today’s debate and on her continued work on this issue, which I know is appreciated by many throughout the House and beyond. It is a pleasure to follow Huw Merriman; I enjoyed listening to the stories of his visits.

Dementia has a lasting impact on those who develop it and on their loved ones. While the patient begins to develop symptoms, maybe slowly at first, it may be frightening—memory loss, a struggle to communicate, mood swings, and a change in personality for reasons the person does not understand. Over the course of our lives we get to know ourselves very well, and losing that sense of self is incredibly sad. The impact on carers and family members must not be underestimated either. Depending on the level of severity, caring for someone with dementia can be a full-time 24/7 job, and that can be exhausting. A common feeling among carers is guilt—guilt that perhaps they cannot keep up; guilt that sometimes they resent their newly found role. It is human nature to be hard on ourselves.

About 90,000 people in Scotland are currently living with dementia, and that number is expected to increase to at least 120,000 over the next 20 years. The condition is prevalent, and numbers are rising. It is estimated that in the UK one in three people born this year will develop a form of dementia later in life. In South Lanarkshire, where my constituency sits, dementia is the leading cause of death for women, accounting for 16.2% of female deaths. That is a sobering statistic. Globally, there are now more people living with dementia than with cancer, which is why research on treatment, or a cure, is so important. There is still no effective treatment. We can see how investment in research has allowed scientists to make unprecedented breakthroughs in respect of cancer, for example: sustained funding for cancer research allowed scientists to understand it better, turning what was, at one point, seen as a death sentence into a chronic but manageable disease. However, the human brain is complex, and that plays a big part in why dementia remains so poorly understood. Research has historically suffered from under-investment, and sustained investment is vital if breakthroughs are to be made.

Let me draw another comparison with cancer research. There have been 74,000 cancer-related clinical trials since 2000, but fewer than 2,400 for Alzheimer’s. In the same timeframe, the Food and Drug Administration has approved 512 cancer drugs, but just six drugs for Alzheimer’s. The UK Government’s funding for cancer is almost three times higher than that for dementia. The pressure on the NHS cannot be ignored. More than one in four hospital beds are occupied by someone with dementia, and more than half of dementia patients will have at least one hospital admission each year.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

It was the story from my friend, John Nicolson, about his mother that twigged something in my memory. The real problem seems to be that the will to live disappears. People look normal, but they are just vacant. As an ex-soldier, having seen this with soldiers, I know that the will to live is crucial. When someone gives up the will to live, they are gone. We have to find a way of making sure that dementia sufferers keep the will to live because if that is vacant, it is gone. I think that is true but others might disagree.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I thank the right hon. and gallant Member for that intervention and John Nicolson for his story about his lovely mother—a really sparkling lady, who I remember seeing pictures of. It is very sad when people give up the will to live.

One in five hospital admissions are for potentially preventable reasons, such as a fall, infection or psychiatric difficulties. It is not all bleak though. There have been developments and we understand the disease better now than we did just a few years ago. New research from University College London and the University of Paris, published in The BMJ in December, found that those with two or more chronic health problems in middle age are more than twice as likely to develop dementia. That research was based on a long-term clinical trial showing how progress can be made if the resources are available.

I would like to mention the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group based in the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. The group looks at traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, and the impact that they have on patients exposed to varying levels of severity of injury. It is pursuing an interesting workstream on the link between repetitive mild TBIs, incurred through sport such as football and rugby, and the increased risk of dementia. We all know of many famous footballers who have died from dementia, such as the great Billy McNeill. This is a fantastic piece of work and one of the many different research areas that could really deepen our understanding of how dementia occurs and develops and of subsequent treatment methods.

The medical community remains hugely optimistic. A survey of researchers at the UK Dementia Research Institute found that 90% of them felt that new treatments would be found within the next decade, and 72% held the opinion that the pace at which breakthroughs are being made is increasing. Vitally, though, 100% pressed the need for additional funding to allow breakthroughs to be made. They are the experts and we should listen.

Developments are already under way, but the key now is maintaining and accelerating the existing momentum. We have heard of the Join dementia research resource, which is piloting actively writing to all people with dementia after their diagnosis to invite them to participate in research. That would hugely benefit dementia research. In March 2021, Public Health Scotland revealed that less than half the people estimated to have had a new dementia diagnosis in 2018-19 were referred to vital post-diagnostic support. That outreach is essential. How will the Government support the JDR pilot and its roll-out across the four nations?

The lack of timely and accurate diagnosis is making it hard for current clinical trials to identify suitable candidates. The condition is severely underdiagnosed and the current backlog has only slowed things down even further. Transforming the current diagnostic process is pivotal. If diagnosis comes too late, we risk patients not being able to access treatments that might have helped to slow down its development.

The Government talk a lot about levelling up the UK, and I wonder whether that same attention could be given here. As part of the dementia strategy, the Government should invest in the development of multiple dementia clinical trial sites to form a network across the UK. Such a project would be in keeping with a true levelling-up agenda and make the UK an attractive centre for international life science investment. Better understanding of the disease leads to better support medically and emotionally. It will lessen the burdens on our frontline services. Early detection of the disease is crucial to allow patients to continue living independently and with dignity. That is one step that can be taken now. We need a stronger understanding among the general public about what to look out for and how to get help.

I wish to highlight the essential support provided by a number of charities for those with dementia and their support networks. They have also provided a wealth of knowledge to Members to support this debate, for which I am very grateful. Age Scotland, whose remit reaches much further, provides excellent support for older people in Scotland, as do Alzheimer’s Research UK, the Alzheimer’s Society, and Alzheimer Scotland, among many others. Charitable funding has become harder to come by over the past two years, and the work of those organisations in the face of that is invaluable and impressive. Their working commitment is commendable. The UK is a leader in biomedical research. That is something to be proud of, and something we must harness. I look forward to the Minister setting out today how plans for dementia research will be included in a national dementia strategy.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

One of my constituents, in asking me to attend today’s debate and talk about dementia, mentioned that they did not feel that dementia is a sexy enough subject to get the funding for research. It is almost as if it is expected that most of us, at the end of our lives, will not be as sharp tacks in the box as we once were, and may therefore find it hard to attract the funding. Does the hon. Lady agree with my constituent?

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

I do not agree that people with dementia have nothing else to give to society. As the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle mentioned, they have some great memory recall, and it can be good to work along with young people from schools. It is essential that we have funding to continue that work and research into dementia because as I said earlier, more and more of us may succumb to that terrible illness. I look forward to the Minister setting out how plans for dementia research will be included in a national dementia strategy, and how the Government are supporting the development of essential new technologies in that space.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:52 pm, 10th February 2022

It is always a pleasure to speak in any debate secured by Debbie Abrahams. Indeed, I do not think she has secured any debate on dementia in either the Chamber or in Westminster Hall that I have not been at. That is first because I want to support her, but secondly because the subject matter is something that is real to me as a constituency MP, and to others who have told their stories in the Chamber. I find those stories incredibly moving because they illustrate, as personal stories always do, how complex this issue is. It is a pleasure to support the hon. Lady in this issue, which affects every corner of this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Strangford is a very beautiful location with wonderful facilities and lovely people. Given that, we have a high number of older retirees, who moved there to enjoy the safety of our constituency. The natural follow-on from that is that we have a large number of people who are susceptible to dementia. Over the years, when one is probably at around my age, one notices people who one remembers from childhood but who are now getting older and have developed dementia. I have quite a few friends in that position—I am not better than anybody else, but I can fairly quickly see where the issues are and one notices the slip away.

For instance, my mother had a lady living next door. One day she came in to see her and afterwards I said, “Mum, I think that lady is just starting to have a wee bit of dementia or Alzheimer’s.” She said, “Are you sure?” and I said, “I’m not smarter than anybody else, but I think there’s the start of something there”, and unfortunately there was. We know that drugs and medication can delay the process by five or six years, stopping the slide. As a busy constituency MP, I deliver on these issues all the time, whether it be attendance allowance forms, benefits issues or just helping people, as I do by the day, by the hour and by the minute. Recent figures and statistics show, and this is scary, that just under a fifth of all dementia diagnoses in Northern Ireland are of residents in the local trust in my Strangford constituency. As a busy MP with very busy staff who deal with these issues every day, every week and every month, I see these things.

Of course, we understand that dementia is not limited to individuals. We must remember that dementia affects entire families. Bob Stewart mentioned his mum, and John Nicolson told a very personal story about his mum, too. We can all relate, as it affects entire families—children, grandchildren, sisters and brothers.

Dementia takes people away from us while they are still alive. Those words sum up the debate very well, as that is the impact of dementia and Alzheimer’s. People see the shell of their precious sister, who has forgotten her husband and who screams when he comes into the room, “Who is this man?” She does not recognise him, but they have been married for 35 or 40 years. She cannot express her toileting needs or say that she is simply lost, which is what these people are. That is the reality.

This is replicated widely throughout the UK. Life is simply harder, as taking the standard medication is a trial. It is little wonder that, currently, one in four NHS hospital beds is occupied by someone living with dementia.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

It is nice to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.

A friend of mine tells me that his wife suffers from dementia. She sometimes turns round to him and says, “Why are you sitting in my husband’s chair? Get out.” Isn’t that tragic?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

That is exactly the kind of story we are all trying to illustrate with our words, or broken words, this afternoon. It is exactly what my constituents say to me.

The economic cost to the UK of caring for people with dementia is estimated to grow from £24 billion in 2014 to £47 billion by 2050. If that is the case, we really need research and development. Everyone who has spoken in this debate has said that we need it now.

I do not want to catch the Minister out, as that is not my nature, but the commitment in the 2019 Conservative manifesto has not yet been delivered. I am not getting at him, as he knows, but we need to have that commitment delivered. Dementia is increasing, and so must our response. We need funding for cures and coping mechanisms, which goes back to the commitment on research and development.

Asking people to play a game of sudoku on their phone each day is not a preventive strategy. We must put our money where our mouth is and find a way to answer the question of dementia. Way before covid arrived, I was invited to attend a dementia and Alzheimer’s help group at the Church of Ireland church in Newtownards. I learned a lot that day from speaking to family members, who told me that playing music sometimes seems to bring those with dementia or Alzheimer’s back to where they were. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire spoke about dancing, and I saw a lady dance—that is what she remembered. Music seems to bring people back, so it can be therapeutic.

There is one event I attended that I do not think I will ever forget. I know the people who run an Alzheimer’s and dementia home. They are very good to all their residents, who have different levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s and are at different stages. The trust were doing an event and they invited me as the MP and some of the local councillors down. They said, “We are going to try to illustrate to you what it’s like to have dementia or Alzheimer’s.”

Here is what they did: first, we put earphones on, which kept the noise around us but made a constant noise in our ears that was quite deafening and scary. They locked us in a room, in darkness, and they put a mask over our eyes so we could see nothing but darkness, which Bob Stewart referred to. They put a sole in our shoe that had points in, so that every time we took a step it was like stepping on stones. We did that for 10 minutes, and it was probably the closest I ever came to being mad. That is how horrendously scary that experience was, and it left a lasting mark on me. That illustrates, from a personal point of view, what it means to have dementia or Alzheimer’s.

In the 2019 Conservative manifesto, the Government committed to addressing dementia, pledging to double funding for dementia research to £160 million a year. However, I say gently to the Minister that two years in we have seen no plan to deliver that funding increase. I understand that there are reasons because of covid-19, but there are also reasons to deliver what was committed, which we all support, and we would all support the Government to make that happen.

The latest figures show a decrease in Government spending on dementia research. For the year 2020, funding for dementia research was £75.7 million, down £7 million from £82.5 in 2019 and £22.4 million down from its peak of £98.1 million in 2016. That tells me that we really need to do something. I know this Minister is a Minister of action, and I know that, when it comes to telling us what will happen, he will be able to tell us that that funding commitment will be addressed, so I look forward to his response.

I support the calls of Alzheimer’s Research UK. The rapid development of the covid-19 vaccines, a success story that we all welcome, tells us that, if we focus on something, we can do it. If we can do it, let us do it—and if we need the money that was committed to make that happen, let us do that as well. That is what we want to make happen. Alzheimer’s Research UK says:

“The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines has demonstrated the role the UK Government can play in bringing together different stakeholders to focus on a common challenge, and the impact this collective energy, funding and determination can have. In parallel to increased research funding, we need the approach taken to COVID vaccines to be applied to dementia—coordinated, ambitious action from government to bring together industry, health services and researchers”— all those who want to help, including our Minister and the Government. It continues:

“This bold approach must be reflected in the forthcoming Department of Health and Social Care’s Dementia Strategy and will ultimately ensure UK patients have priority access to innovative new dementia treatments.”

Dementia is unfortunately a growing problem, and we must focus on it, not simply because it will be beneficial to our financials in the long term—it will—but because families are being torn apart by the pain of losing loved ones while they care for their shell. That is what is happening. It is like losing a piece of them week by week, and it hurts. It hurts all those families. It hurt the right hon. Member for Beckenham, it hurt the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire and it hurt the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, who lost her mum.

When I think of all those things, I believe we can do more to stop dementia, and funding for research is the way we must go. Again, I look to the Minister—to my Minister and to my Government—to make that manifesto commitment a reality, and sooner rather than later.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member) 4:03 pm, 10th February 2022

I too commend Debbie Abrahams for securing this debate and for her excellent contributions to it.

We have heard that dementia affects around 850,000 people in the United Kingdom—one in every 14 people over the age of 65, and one in every six over the age of 80. Dementia is one of the leading causes of death across the United Kingdom and currently, as we know, there is no cure. The most well-known impact of dementia on an individual is progressive memory loss, which affects both mental and physical abilities and makes it difficult to execute even the most basic of daily activities effectively and efficiently. When someone is diagnosed with dementia, it can be overwhelming, as they face several difficult challenges on the long road ahead.

We all know and have heard just how much dementia has affected many of our constituents and their loved ones during this awful pandemic. The House heard so lovingly from my hon. Friend John Nicolson about his plight and the plight of his wonderful mother Marion. I have spoken to those who care for family members across my constituency of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, and they have expressed how much more difficult covid and the pandemic have made the experience, as the pandemic has presented its own new and unique challenges.

Not only does dementia cause harm and heartbreak to millions of families throughout the countries of the UK but it is completely unsustainable for our health and social care systems. The economic cost to the UK of caring for people with dementia is estimated to grow from the £24 billion it was in 2014 to £47 billion by 2050. Age is, of course, by far the biggest risk factor for a dementia diagnosis, and as our population ages the number of people diagnosed with dementia will increase. The number of people living with dementia in the UK is expected to exceed 1 million by 2025.

As we have heard, 90,000 people are currently living with dementia in homes all across Scotland. That is why the SNP Scottish Government published a dementia and covid-19 action plan in December 2020, to build on, continue and expand the national action taken since March 2020 to support people with dementia and their carers. The Scottish Government are working with partners such as Age Scotland to help dementia patients to get better support and have a bigger say in what works for them and in their individual care package.

The Scottish Government have pledged a further £1 million to help to tackle dementia in Scotland. Brian Sloan, the chief exec of Age Scotland, said:

“This funding will help address some of these challenges by shaping communities that work for those who have lived experience of dementia.”

That is a clear indication of the effectiveness of Scotland’s response. The Scottish Government have seen how the coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people with dementia. Through partnerships, they will help to grow the community support that has been considered critical to people and their families. I am of the belief that Scotland is also seeing positive results through our policy of integrated health and social care among health boards and local authorities. The Westminster Government should follow that lead.

Of course, Scotland is currently the only country in the United Kingdom with free personal care, which is extremely important support for people under the financial strains that dementia and living with dementia can place on families. People who are not in Scotland may wonder what that looks like: a dementia sufferer can receive up to four visits per day in their own home, where care is administered and the carer spends some time with them because, as Bob Stewart pointed out, loneliness can be one of the biggest indicators that mean people simply give up. We must do everything we can to make sure that people live a fulfilling and wonderful life.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

Thank you.

In 2017, the UK Government declared that the UK would be the most dementia- friendly country in the world by 2020. [Interruption.] The Minister nods his head, but unfortunately we know that that is not true: just look at the hundreds of dementia care homes in England that were discovered to be providing substandard care to their dementia patients.

A Care Quality Commission report found that one in every five homes specialising in dementia were rated as “inadequate” or “requiring improvement”. Some posed such a serious risk to people with dementia—because of filthy living conditions, poor infection control and poorly trained staff—that inspectors had to order them to be put into special measures. In total, 1,636 care homes are failing patients, according to findings described as “appalling” by charities and campaigners. They stated that immediate action was required to address the “unacceptable” state of dementia care across the country.

If we are to position the UK as the world leader in dementia—something we all want to see—we should not start by cutting the much-needed funding that was promised by the Government for dementia research. As we have heard, the 2019 Conservative party manifesto committed to address dementia by pledging to double funding for dementia research to more than £160 million per year. However, two years later and another broken promise later, we find ourselves in the same situation, with no plans from the Government to deliver on their manifesto pledge. The funding for dementia research for 2020 was £75.7 million—a decrease from £82.5 million in 2019 and from the high of £98.1 million in 2016.

What else do we need to say to persuade the Government to recognise the importance of funding dementia research in trials? Currently we have over 150 clinical trials worldwide examining potential dementia treatments. It is more pressing than ever that we can transform dementia diagnosis. We need early diagnosis of the diseases that cause dementia and we need to diagnose them more accurately; otherwise it will be too late for patients to benefit from potential new treatments. The Government should invest now in infrastructure, resources and the clinical workforce to build diagnostic capacity and support innovative ways of organising NHS services such as brain health clinics to offer new diagnostic pathways. I look forward to the Minister outlining how the Government intend to achieve that.

The Scottish Government have proven our commitment to dementia research with a one-off £75 million increase in funding for our universities to ensure that they can protect world-leading research programmes against the financial impacts of covid-19. That is exactly how we protect those we care about and those who care for us. The current prevalence rate of dementia among older people in the UK is about 7.1%, and of the four countries Scotland has the lowest prevalence rate, with England having the highest overall prevalence rate. With the growing trend and threat of dementia to our citizens, it is now time for this Government to act and to outline a proper plan to help combat the threat of dementia across these nations, with the goal of preventing people from developing the onset of dementia.

The UK Government can follow in the footsteps of Scotland and become the world leader in dementia research they told us they would be, but to do so they must deliver on their manifesto commitments to double the funding for dementia research, speed up progress in clinical trials, and ultimately—maybe only by the grace of God—help us to find the cure. We cannot allow any more time or opportunities to pass by as we seek to support those living with and at risk of dementia.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 4:12 pm, 10th February 2022

I wholeheartedly thank my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams for securing this vital debate, and for the work that she does as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on dementia. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting the time for the debate. What it lacked in quantity of Members, given that it is the last debate before the recess, it certainly did not lack in quality.

I think there is unanimity on recognising the value of dementia research and on willing the Government to do more. That degree of unanimity is unusual in such an adversarial Chamber as the House of Commons, but we have had a good debate today. I pay tribute not just to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth but to my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood, Bob Stewart, and the hon. Members for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar).

Dementia is the only condition out of the 10 conditions with the highest mortality rates for which there is no treatment to prevent, cure or slow its progression. Almost 1 million people are currently living with dementia. Every three minutes, someone develops the condition. As we heard very powerfully from John Nicolson, it affects not just the individual but those around them—their family and friends. Dementia is also severely underdiagnosed, and that has been further exacerbated by covid-19. There is a backlog of approximately 35,000 people aged 65 and over waiting for dementia diagnoses. I would be grateful if the Minister, in his response, could outline the specific measures that the Government will take to improve early detection of dementia. I also pay tribute to the many charities working on dementia, to the individuals working in research and, as the right hon. Member for Beckenham rightly did, to those caring for people with dementia—not just the professional carers, but the massive army of often family carers looking after their loved ones.

Unless we find a prevention or cure for the disease that causes dementia, the number of people in the UK living with the condition is likely to reach 2 million by 2050—a shocking statistic. As we have heard, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were the leading cause of death in 2021. As the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle said, in 2021, we were in the middle of the covid pandemic and rightly focused on the tragic deaths of people from covid-19-related illnesses, but dementia and Alzheimer’s topped the league table. Indeed, in 2019, 15.9% of all recorded female deaths were due to the condition. This is big, and I know that the Minister understands the severity. Those shocking statistics mean that dementia has consistently, for whatever reason, over a long period of time, suffered from under-investment in research.

Great work is being done in my constituency of Denton and Reddish in Greater Manchester, as it is across the United Kingdom. I pay particular thanks to those working in Tameside and Stockport memory services, who give the initial dementia diagnosis, provide individuals with initiating and monitoring medication, and connect them to support groups in their community. That kind of holistic approach to dementia care is crucial.

Dementia can be cured only with research, however, which is why I am also proud of the work that the Greater Manchester dementia research centre is doing in this field. The centre aims to connect people living with dementia to cutting-edge studies and to the National Institute for Health Research. The centre works across the UK through the UK Brain Health Network, which has researchers in Bristol, Edinburgh, London, Cambridge, Oxford, Cardiff and Belfast, and which aims to bring molecular diagnostics into routine practice throughout the country.

Alongside the wider Greater Manchester “Dementia United” strategy, that innovative work gives my constituents who suffer from dementia the research, support and clarity that they deserve. It is just one example of the really good work taking place across the country. We need world-class research to achieve the best quality of life for people and families living with dementia.

The Minister is perhaps one of the nicest people I have to face—other than you, Mr Deputy Speaker—and I know that he genuinely wants to do the right thing, which is good. He knows, however, as has been referred to on numerous occasions, that his Government’s 2019 election manifesto promised to pour £1.6 billion into dementia research over the next decade as part of the so-called dementia moonshot. There has been huge unanimity in the debate that we want to see that happen. That was a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South. Over two years on from the general election, we have seen no plans to deliver that funding increase. The latest figures show there has actually been a decrease in Government spending on dementia research, with funding down by over £20 million since 2016. It has gone down by £7.2 million per year under this Prime Minister. That is totally unacceptable. I hope that in his response the Minister will address how on earth that has been allowed to happen.

Photo of Lilian Greenwood Lilian Greenwood Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reduction in Government funding is particularly concerning, because the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the ability of charities to fundraise? Medical research charities, which fund 51% of all medical research in the UK, have seen their ability to fundraise reduced drastically.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. There has been a perfect storm. As we have heard, there is a growing list of people waiting to be diagnosed properly with dementia as a consequence of the covid pandemic, and, as she rightly says, the very research groups doing in-depth analysis and research into this disease are largely reliant on charitable sources of funding, which have almost completely dried up over the course of the pandemic.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I was going to mention this when I wind up, but I could not agree more. Funds to medical research charities, such as Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, have more or less halved—an awful impact.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

Absolutely. This is a crucial point and it is why the Government really must come good on their promises.

I also hope the Minister will update the House and give us a timetable for the publication of the dementia strategy. Patients living with dementia, and their loved ones, cannot wait for the Government to get their act together. We need a plan and we need it to go much faster to develop treatments to change lives. The Government must deliver now on their 2019 dementia moonshot manifesto promise to double Government funding into dementia research. No more excuses: that promise needs to be kept. As we have heard, funding is needed now more than ever in a research landscape that has been decimated by covid. Not only have charitable donations dried up, but a survey from Alzheimer’s Research UK found that more than a third of dementia researchers were considering leaving, or had left, academic research due to uncertainty around funding opportunities.

I want to raise the point made by my hon. Friend Ms Brown in an intervention on the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. She rightly made the point that too often these research projects are not necessarily seen as sexy. We have to make sure that that is not the case, because as I have said, they are so crucial. Labour is committed to doubling dementia research spending to over £160 million a year and to playing our part in finding a cure for this cruellest of diseases. That is a part of our commitment to not only protect but enhance the UK science base and achieve 3% of GDP spending on science and research across the economy.

Patients and their families must be a priority. That starts with dementia research, improved early diagnosis and world class clinical trials. Our goal must be to prevent, treat and ultimately cure this complex and often heartbreaking condition. That is why Labour’s suggestion of a 10-year plan of investment and reform for older and disabled people, including those with dementia, is so important. It would ensure that more people could access care and live in their homes for longer, while being supported by carers paid a proper living wage of £10 an hour.

British people deserve better. We need to meet the challenges of this century of ageing. We need to learn from the pandemic, because there are so many lessons that we can put into ordinary life. We need to treat those who are diagnosed with dementia with the respect that they deserve. This is not a party political point; there is unanimity across this House of Commons. We must redouble our efforts on research for dementia to improve care and support and, ultimately, to find a cure for this dreadful disease.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 4:25 pm, 10th February 2022

In response to one of the points made by the shadow Minister, Andrew Gwynne, I would not take away from Justin Madders, who has the Adjournment debate, the honour of having the last debate before the House rises. The shadow Minister is absolutely right about the importance of the subject we are debating, and I am grateful to him, as always, for his tone and what he has said. I find myself in agreement with him perhaps more often than is good for my promotion prospects; that is one for the Whips not to note in their book.

I thank Debbie Abrahams for securing this hugely important debate. Before I was a Minister, I had the privilege of working with her and the all-party group as one of her co-chairs. I pay tribute to her for her work and her dedication to this issue, which is one of the most important that we will debate in this House, and to the work of the all-party group and the various charities that engage with it so diligently and give so much of their time.

I hope the hon. Lady will find it encouraging that even though this policy area falls within the ministerial portfolio of my hon. Friend the Minister for Care and Mental Health—I am, therefore, taking this debate on her behalf—I still read the reports and calls for evidence that the all-party group puts out. I will turn to the dementia moonshot in a moment, but I particularly remember the report from, I think, September last year with its overall recommendation and seven subsequent recommendations. I hope it reassures the hon. Lady to know that I continue to follow very closely the important work that she and the all-party group do. I hope that she will pass on to the all-party group, and the Members of this House who serve on it, my gratitude for their work.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, and indeed all hon. Members who have spoken, have highlighted in different ways either personal or constituency experience, or the work of organisations in their constituencies. As a Minister, I do not often get the opportunity to pay tribute to particular organisations in my constituency, unless I can somehow work them into debates that I am responding to. I join Members in highlighting a number of them, including the memory café, which I have visited, in Syston in my constituency. I had the privilege of visiting, pre pandemic, the Cedar Mews care home, which specialises in providing care for people with dementia, and working with local Dementia UK members in their campaign to raise the funding to secure an Admiral nurse to help people with dementia and their families in Leicestershire. We are all very familiar with Macmillan nurses, and it is important that we take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of Admiral nurses in this context and raise their profile.

The hon. Lady will know that, like my right hon. and gallant Friend Bob Stewart, I am a dementia friend from my days on the all-party group. I encourage all hon. and right hon. Members who have not engaged with that process to do so. It involves undertaking an incredibly thought-provoking and valuable session, which will make hon. and right hon. Members look at these issues in a different light, however well informed they think they are. I commend that programme.

This debate on dementia research is very timely, since the Government are currently developing their new dementia strategy, as has been mentioned. The new strategy will set out our plans for dementia for future years, and it includes our ambitions for dementia research. We are working closely with patients, researchers, funders and charities to develop these plans, and we look forward to setting out—I think the shadow Minister and other hon. and right hon. Members called for this—a bold approach to the challenges of dementia.

The central recommendation in the APPG report on dementia—it has been mentioned by a number of hon. and right hon. Members—was for the Government to deliver on the election manifesto pledge on dementia research, but I know that they entirely understand the impact of the pandemic. The SNP Government in Scotland, for perfectly good reasons, have had to break their pledge to deliver a fourth dementia strategy from 2020, following their highly successful third dementia strategy because they were unable to consult and develop their plans and had to prioritise dealing with the pandemic. For exactly the same reasons, the pandemic has had the same impact on the UK Government’s focus and on the funding, which we had to put into covid over that period.

I will turn to the manifesto pledge in a minute, but I know—I may get the pronunciation wrong—that Steven Bonnar is a reasonable and sensible gentleman. My comments may not do him any favours with his Whips, but I know he will appreciate the impact that dealing with the pandemic had on the ability of the UK Government, and indeed the devolved Administrations, to implement their ambitious plans at the time they wanted to. However, that does not take away from the commitment of both the UK Government and the Scottish Government, now that the pandemic has receded, to get on with delivering what I know we all want to see, and I think that is a shared ambition.

I can reassure the House that we remain absolutely committed to supporting research into dementia. The funding pledge that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish highlighted in his remarks was in the 2019 manifesto, but of course we still have some time in this Parliament to run—I believe—and it is a longer-term pledge. There is still an opportunity to deliver on that and the Government still recognise the importance of that commitment. I will turn to funding in a moment and pick up the point made by my hon. Friend Huw Merriman.

The impact of the pandemic has been significant, and of course people with dementia, and their families and carers, have been very hard hit by its effects and by the necessary measures to combat it. I do not think anyone could have put it more effectively and more movingly than John Nicolson who, in order to help our understanding, shared with the House—I know it will have been difficult—and therefore with the country, his experiences and those of his mother Marion. I pay huge tribute to him for his courage and bravery in talking about something that I know will still be very painful. From what he and Madam Deputy Speaker, Dame Eleanor Laing, said at the time, I know how close he was to his mother. Sadly, I never met Marion, but I get the impression that she was a wonderful and amazing lady. I pay tribute to him for his courage.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I think he speaks for thousands across this country who will have had a similar experience during the course of the pandemic. We must never forget every one of the people lost during this pandemic, whatever medical reason caused that, and we must never forget the families and carers of those with dementia.

As we have heard from hon. and right hon. Members—the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth talked about her mother, as did Dr Huq, who is no longer in her place—the challenge and the impact of dementia are huge. Dementia is a heartbreaking condition that, sadly, impacts many of us, or will do, either directly or through family and friends. More than 850,000 people in the UK have dementia, and they are supported by a similar number of carers, many of whom are older people themselves, and we must never forget the debt we owe to each and every one of them. Of course, in a sense they do not see it as our owing them a debt. They do it out of love for their relatives and their friends, and that possibly even adds to the gratitude that we as a country should show them in recognition of what they do.

Hon. Members have mentioned the Office for National Statistics data on deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in 2019, and the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth made a very important point. In common parlance and commentary, people talk about Alzheimer’s as dementia and dementia as a single disease, but she is right to talk about dementia as an overarching term for a variety of diseases. I will return to education and awareness-raising. ONS statistics show that in 2019 deaths attributed to dementia decreased for the first time since 2009, but they remained the leading cause of death, accounting for 12.5% of all registered deaths in that year.

On the point that I was making to the hon. Lady, there are three key elements that we as a society and as a country need to look at. First, we need to raise people’s awareness and understanding of dementia. We want to have a society in which we all think and feel differently about dementia; one where there is less fear, stigma and discrimination and more understanding. While many thousands of people have dementia, we must not see it as an inevitable part of ageing. I will return to that.

In the past 20 to 30 years, we have seen a breaking down of the taboo and unwillingness to speak about cancer, for example. As a society and as individuals, we talk much more in our national and individual discourse about cancer and what we can do to help prevent it, to treat it, and to make people feel less alone when they have a cancer diagnosis. We have made progress on dementia, but we still have a long way to go to raise that awareness and have that national debate. All hon. Members play a huge role in stimulating that debate, and today’s debate has helped to do that.

To return to the heart of the matter, perhaps one reason why people do not engage with it or talk about it—they may feel frightened—is that although with cancer we know that there are diagnostic tests and that every day we are making new discoveries that help increase the opportunity to find a cure and treat it or so that people can live longer and well with it, we are not there yet with dementia. I suspect that there is an element of people thinking, “Well, if I get the answer and nothing really can be done, do I want to know?” The short answer is that it is always better to know, because that allows the person to plan and have those conversations. Through knowing, they can also help advance that research. However, I understand the entirely human reaction of people thinking, “Maybe I’d prefer not to know.” We need to continue that conversation.

The second hugely important aspect is support and care for people with dementia and for those who care for them. While we seek to improve prevention and diagnosis as well as seeking that cure, we need to ensure that those living with dementia and those who are supporting them feel that they in turn are supported. We are determined to support those living with dementia to live the fullest possible life for as long as possible and to support those who care for them.

Alongside that, the third element—in a sense, this is the crux of some of the speeches and the debate—is research into testing and diagnosis. While it is not often the case, I think that hon. Members in the Chamber are as one in seeking one goal: the day we find a cure for dementia—or, at the very least, something that can delay it or treat it.

While we wait for that day, it is important to recognise the point made about prevention by Lilian Greenwood. There is much that we do know about how people can help reduce their risk of dementia through lifestyle factors and a range of other things. They may not be exclusive, but there is an opportunity for people to take simple steps that help prevent or reduce the risk of getting dementia. We need to do more to spread that message and raise awareness of that in our society. I am grateful to her for making that point, because we want to reduce the number of preventable dementia cases.

I will return to other points subsequently, but let me turn to research and the moonshot that has been mentioned. The new dementia strategy will set out our plans to tackle dementia over the coming years. I try not to be partisan, so I pay tribute to the Scottish Government’s 2017 to 2020 dementia care strategy—I think it was their third—as well as the two related workforce programmes and a range of other measures. We can always learn from each other and best practice in different parts of our Union, and we should certainly be willing to do that in a space such as this. Dr Whitford has kindly invited me to Edinburgh to see a range of things that she wishes to showcase to me. I hope that I will be able to take her up on that offer and also see my opposite number in Scotland, Secretary Humza Yousaf.

Hon. Members raised a question about the devolved Administrations and working together. I think Margaret Ferrier, who is no longer in her place, mentioned the joint dementia research work. We are working with the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer Scotland. We are jointly funding that work to ensure that, notwithstanding other contexts in this House where we may have debates about our Union, we are genuinely working together to deliver a positive outcome.

Increasing research spend takes time. I hope that hon. Members will recognise the impact that the past two years have had on the spending prioritisation, as we have had to focus to meet the immediacy of the covid situation. However, we have committed to invest at least £375 million in neurodegenerative disease research over the next five years. To the point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, we are working across Government to finalise outcomes from the spending review and to identify ways to significantly boost research on dementia.

With that in mind, I turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle, who says that in this context, I will always have a friend in him. I always find that I do have a friend in him; I have known him for a long time. Without straying into territory more properly reserved to the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor, let me say that there is a joint ambition across Government to continue to drive this agenda forward. Knowing my hon. Friend as I do, and watching his work as Chair of the Transport Committee, I suspect that he will not hold back in expressing his views on matters such as this, about which he is passionate.

The £5 billion investment in health-related research and development announced in the 2021 spending review reflects the Government’s broader commitment to support research into the most pressing health challenges of our time, including dementia. A number of specific points have been raised by the APPG and other Members. I will touch on as many as I can in the time available, but seek to leave five minutes for the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth, because I suspect she will want to come back on some of these points, given her work.

I turn to prevention, including what the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities will do to help reduce people’s risk of developing dementia. The APPG report recommended that the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities launch public information campaigns on dementia risk reduction. OHID is involved in the development of the new dementia strategy, which will include proposals on prevention and risk reduction. The concept of brain health as part of encouraging people to reduce their dementia risk—going to the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham South—is being actively explored. OHID has been working with the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK to review public facing materials aimed at raising public awareness of dementia risk reduction.

I should take this opportunity—I fear I omitted to do so in my opening remarks—to pay tribute to Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dementia UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and the myriad local charities and groups that are working so hard to drive forward this agenda, and to support people with dementia and their families, as well as the research space. I add my tribute to that of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish to the Greater Manchester research centre. Sadly it does not fall within my portfolio, but he and I might be dextrous in finding a reason within my portfolio that allows me to go and visit it with him jointly, which we would both enjoy.

More than 15 million people aged between 40 and 74 are eligible for an NHS health check in England, and during such a check, individuals are made aware that exercise, healthy weight, healthy diet and reduced alcohol consumption help maintain a healthy brain, and we need to continue to emphasise that message and the support that is out there through those health checks. I think it was the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth who touched on early diagnosis—it is not just about focusing on research for a cure, but on diagnosis. Timely diagnosis of dementia, as with so many other diseases, plays a hugely important part in ensuring that a person with dementia can access the advice, information, care and support that can help them plan and to live well with the condition and remain independent for as long as possible.

Everyone with dementia should have meaningful care following diagnosis, including information on local services, access to relevant advice and support and what happens next. Carers should be made aware of and offered the opportunity for the respite and support they need. DHSC guidance is already available, titled “After diagnosis of dementia: what to expect from health and care services”. When we set out our dementia strategy, diagnosis will be a key element of that.

Medical research charities have come up in this context, too, because it is not just about the big institutions—small institutions, academic institutions and charities are all playing their part in this space. I agree with Members in the analogy they drew with the vaccines and what can be achieved and what was achieved when there is an imperative to do it. I find myself agreeing with the shadow Minister. When we put our minds to doing something as a society and a country, there are often no limits to what we can achieve, as we have seen. We must put the same focus on this issue.

We recognise that the pandemic has caused problems across the sector and that many charities are facing difficulties just as their services are needed most. Medical research charities are a vital part of our life sciences ecosystem, and they provide significant research funding and training. Importantly, they amplify the voices of patients and their families in that process. Officials at the Department have been closely liaising with the medical research charities to better understand the impact of the pandemic on them and to seek to identify how we can work together to support their research and them. In that context, just one example is that my Department, alongside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, has announced a £20 million support package to help support early career researchers funded by charities. That will protect that pipeline of talent coming through the research system, to which Members have referred.

We have a rich dementia research ecosystem and we need to continue to support it. Through the UK Dementia Research Institute, scientists have made huge leaps in understanding the mechanisms underlying disease progression, and researchers have developed potential new diagnostics and treatments. It is painstaking work. The hon. Lady will remember when the focus was very much on amyloids, and whether that would produce a route to that cure. Often with research it is one step forward, two steps back, two steps forward, one step back, so the sustainability of investment and focus is vital if we are to make the breakthrough that we all wish to see.

Dementias Platform UK has established technology-based networks to better understand how dementia starts and to support experimental medicine studies. As the APPG report recognises, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK, people with dementia and their carers continue to be recruited via Join Dementia Research to take part in a range of important research.

Through our National Institute for Health Research, we are supporting high-quality studies on preventing dementia through interventions targeted at known risk factors, service provision, care and care technology. There are many examples, but to give one, the “Well-being and Health for People Living with Dementia”, or WHELD programme developed an intervention to improve wellbeing for people with dementia in care homes and to reduce unnecessary prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs. In the 2021 spending review, as I have alluded to, we announced that £5 billion investment in health-related research and development. That reflects our commitment to support research, including in dementia.

We have taken positive action over the past year, notwithstanding the pandemic, to lay the ground for further developments and further research. Within the National Institute for Health Research, we launched a new £9 million call inviting research proposals on the early detection of dementia using digital technology. We launched a £3.6 million research for social care call to address important social care questions relating to dementia. The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth has taken a close interest in that, both in her previous shadow ministerial role and on the all-party parliamentary group on dementia, and I think that the APPG has called for evidence on social care impacts. We launched a highlight notice on dementia that invites ambitious dementia research applications; it signals to the community that dementia is a priority area for the NIHR.

As we work across Government to finalise the outcomes of the spending review and look towards the spring, the House, the Government and the country need to retain a focus on this issue, which is one of the most testing challenges we face as a society. We are living longer, which is a great testament to advances in medical science and in its ability to fix our bodies and keep them going for longer. The ability to understand, repair and treat our brains has perhaps not moved forward at the same pace, so we are living longer with dementia. That is, in a sense, positive, but it presents challenges for society, and it is why we must retain a focus on dementia.

We need to continue to build on our successes in order to accelerate the progress on dementia research, but we cannot do that alone. We will continue to work on this across Government, and with charities and the research community. By and large, we share the objectives of the shadow Minister and his colleagues. We may disagree from time to time on how to get there, but I suspect that we have, and will retain, a common objective. Crucially, we must work with people with dementia and their families to bring forward our ambitious plans for our new dementia strategy.

It has been a great privilege and pleasure to wind up such an important debate, and to speak on a topic that is not in my ministerial portfolio, but in which I have taken such a close interest over the years. We owe it to our constituents and future generations to rise to meet the challenges of our ageing society and of dementia. We must redouble our efforts to do that; when we do, I believe that our society and our country will meet the challenge of dementia and find the cure that we all seek.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 4:52 pm, 10th February 2022

Let me start with some thank-yous. I thank all the speakers who contributed to today’s debate on dementia research, which is absolutely essential for the reasons that many of us have discussed. I am very grateful to every Member who shared their personal stories and experiences.

This is not something that will go away. We will see an increase in people with dementia, but it does not need to be that way. Before I go on to what we need to do and comment on the Minister’s winding-up speech, I pay tribute to my constituency, where we have 3,000 dementia friends. I was the first MP to train as a dementia friends champion; I deliver sessions on the subject across my constituency, and our youth council has taken part in this, too. It is an important way that we can drive up awareness, because so many people have personal experience of the effects of living with dementia. We have an annual memory walk, and many of our retailers have undertaken training, so that when someone gets to a checkout but does not know what they are there for, or what money they need to pay for the goods, there is understanding, rather than tut-tutting.

I worked hard with the Minister over a number of years when he was co-chair of the APPG. There is absolutely unanimity here—my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne referred to it. Members on both sides of the House need to do more. Unfortunately, what has happened so far is not enough. We need to ask the Government to stump up for the commitments that they made in the 2019 general election.

The money that has gone on neurodegenerative diseases research covers a much broader spectrum of diseases than those that contribute specifically to dementia. The early career researchers fund covers all diseases, not just those specifically focusing on dementia. The families of people with dementia deserve better. They deserve delivery on a promise that was made to them more than two years ago. The impact that dementia is having on people’s lives cannot be underestimated.

There is a lot more that can be done. We can have screening programmes, like those that we have for breast, cervical, prostate and bowel cancers, for people in their early 20s and 30s. Diagnostic tools have been developed to enable diagnosis to happen sooner, rather than later, so that dementia does not have an impact on people as they grow older and it is picked up early. It is not good enough for the Government to say, “This is what we are doing.” They really need to deliver.

I hope the Minister will take this message back to the Treasury, so that there is an announcement in the spring statement. I know the Minister is personally committed to this issue, but the Government need to back him up.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

As the Minister said, this has been a significant debate on the last day before the week’s recess. I have been an MP for 30 years and I remember that one of my first surgery cases was a lady who came to see me. Her husband had a very senior position and was well respected throughout the community but he had succumbed to the cruelty of dementia. She broke down in tears as she told me how she had had to put post-it notes all around their home in order for him to know where the cups were and things like that. My eyes welled up listening to her story. It is such a cruel condition, and we wish everybody working in dementia research in the UK and throughout the world well in order that they can protect lives in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved.

That this House
has considered dementia research in the UK.