Health: Dementia — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 14th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative 2:46 pm, 14th July 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve the early diagnosis, and to raise awareness, of dementia.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, in March 2012, the Prime Minister launched his Challenge on Dementia, to deliver major improvements in care and research. NHS England has set the first ever national ambition to improve dementia diagnosis. By March 2015, our aim is that two-thirds of the estimated people with dementia receive a diagnosis and appropriate post-diagnostic support. In May, Public Health England and the Alzheimer’s Society launched the Dementia Friends campaign, a major social movement to improve dementia awareness.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative

My Lords, all those who have lived with a loved one with dementia know only too well the heartache and unhappiness it brings to the whole family, without mentioning the financial implications for the family and, indeed, for the country. Does my noble friend agree that the Government must do everything in their power in this ageing society to support, wholeheartedly and urgently, research into this horrible condition? Does he also share my view that the probability of there being a test for early diagnosis around the corner does not mean that we all have to rush to the doctor if we have trouble remembering a few names or even, I understand, if one is losing one’s sense of smell?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, my noble friend is right on the last point. The advice I have received is that it is perfectly normal for memory to be affected by age, stress and tiredness, and that you should go to your GP only if you are worried. My noble friend is absolutely right about the importance of research because we need to make a step-change in the prevention of dementia and in its treatment and care. Research spending on dementia has increased by nearly 50% since

2010-11. We are on track to meet the target of increasing funding to £66.3 million by 2015 and our ambition is to further double spending over the decade following the end of the present Parliament. My noble friend will also be aware that research was a major focus of the G8 dementia summit last December and the World Dementia Envoy, Dr Dennis Gillings, is leading a World Dementia Council to stimulate innovation in this area.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he said in response to this Question, but are the Government aware that dementia sufferers should never be left alone too much? I speak from experience because my sister is an Alzheimer’s sufferer. It is not a good idea ever to leave them too much on their own; it simply makes them a lot worse. Many are elderly people who otherwise live on their own and it is not a good idea. I have certainly set up arrangements for people to see my sister regularly, ensuring that she has her medicine and that she sees people every day. In that way, she is getting a lot better than I think otherwise she would, and she is able to participate in the life of the community as otherwise she would not be able to.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The noble Baroness makes a series of extremely important points about the care of people with dementia. She is absolutely right. That is why we need to place greater emphasis on professional training and awareness, not only among NHS professionals but among social care staff, so that they appreciate the full dimension of the condition. Of course, we must remind ourselves that dementia is not a single condition. There are several conditions along that spectrum and each one has its own particular characteristics. We are emphasising to the NHS and local authorities that individual care planning is vital in this area.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, will the Minister reinforce the point that he just touched on, that dementia—as a generic term—affects individuals in very different ways? As we have already heard, individuals’ circumstances vary enormously in terms of the position of their carers. Will the Minister do everything he can to ensure that in the future services will continue to respect the unique qualities of the individual who is affected by this condition?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Again, the noble Lord makes a central point. As he will know, dementia can range from mild cognitive impairment to difficulties in organising daily life, right through to confinement to bed and very serious cognitive impairment. Knowing this is very distressing for people in the early stages of dementia. All this is why we are laying such emphasis on NHS staff receiving training. By October 2013, 108,000 NHS staff had received tier 1 training on dementia, and more than 100,000 social care workers have received some form of dementia awareness training through workforce development funding. We are aiming to increase those numbers substantially over the coming years.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as there are currently no effective drug therapies, will the Minister explain what the incentives are for GPs to make early diagnosis of the condition?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

It is generally recognised—although some GPs disagree—that early diagnosis of dementia is vital. It is vital for ensuring that a person with dementia can access the relevant advice, information and care and support that can help them live well with the condition. My noble friend is right that there is currently no cure for dementia, but there are drugs that can help with some of the symptoms and people with dementia have the right to know that they have the condition so that they can better plan for the future.

Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, I declare my health interests. The Alzheimer’s Society says that one person in five who suffer from dementia gets no support or information after diagnosis. Will the Minister say what specific actions the Government are taking now to try to improve the situation?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, NHS England is investing £90 million in diagnosing two-thirds of people with dementia by March next year. We have amended the GP contract so that everyone over 75 has a named, accountable GP and the most vulnerable 2% in each practice will receive an enhanced service. The NHS Choices website has been enhanced. NHS England has provided CCGs with tools and guidance to help them set a local ambition to improve dementia diagnosis. The post-diagnostic support that the noble Lord mentions is absolutely central. There is a post-diagnosis working group to identify what good looks like in this area and roll out best practice.