Inequalities in Dementia Services — [Christina Rees in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 12:30 pm on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 12:30, 16 May 2024

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. This is the absolute crux of the issues we are facing. First of all the target is not ambitious enough, but as he rightly says there are these inequalities. I prefer calling a spade a spade, so these are inequalities and we need to call them what they are. Although the national picture is poor, if we dig further into the data we can see that there is a huge regional inequality in dementia diagnosis rates. In my Oldham constituency, for example, the rate is above 75% and in Devon it is just 40%. Where you live has a massive impact on whether you get a timely, accurate and high-quality dementia diagnosis. A postcode lottery on this scale for a condition that will affect one in three of us is not acceptable.

The APPG’s dementia diagnosis inquiry revealed several issues. There are significant differences in the dementia diagnosis rates between integrated care system areas in England. The report referred to a recent Alzheimer’s Society survey of clinicians, clinical commissioning groups—the predecessors of the ICSs—and dementia support workers. Poverty and health inequalities were identified as major barriers to getting a dementia diagnosis. This was also borne out by analysis by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities. I have to say I do not particularly like the title of that organisation; I think it should be the “Office of Health Improvement and Inequalities”.

Similarly, there were lower rates of diagnosis in ethnic minority populations. For example, the City of Wolverhampton has an overall diagnosis rate of 70%, but just 35% for people from an ethnic minority community.

Alzheimer’s Research UK also undertook an analysis and published a report last October—“Towards Brain Health Equity: Tackling Inequalities in Dementia Risk”—and this highlighted research identifying vulnerable groups and the dementia risk that they face. That is also an inequality. It referred to research in England and Wales that showed that socioeconomic deprivation and ethnicity are linked to increased dementia mortality, younger age at death from dementia and poorer access to specialist diagnostics. A number of recommendations were made around that. We know that there are 12 modifiable risk factors associated with dementia, and the report focused on action around reducing air pollution, lowering smoking rates, healthy eating, tackling higher blood pressure and identifying and treating hearing loss.

Returning to our APPG inquiry, we received input from more than 2,300 people and I thank them sincerely. Those people have gone through—either themselves or with a loved one—a dementia diagnosis process. They shared their experiences in our survey and we found that every part of the country produced different experiences of the diagnosis system. In Somerset, for example, people were most likely to report that they were satisfied with the time it took for them to receive a diagnosis but were least likely to say that they received satisfactory post-diagnostic support. In London, respondents had the best access to brain scans but found it most difficult to access GP appointments. I know that £17 million was invested in dementia diagnosis by the Government in 2021-22 and that part of that money was to develop best practice advice.