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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 12:50 pm on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons) 12:50, 16 May 2024

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Rees, so thank you for being here this afternoon. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams. In preparation for today’s debate, I looked back in Hansard at previous contributions I had made in debates on dementia, and I was struck by the fact that every single one started the same way: by paying tribute to her. On every occasion I have spoken about dementia, it has been in a debate secured by her, and every time I have attended an event on dementia or Alzheimer’s, it has been hosted by her. She trained me in a workshop back in 2016 to be a dementia friend, and she is the most incredible advocate on behalf of all those living with dementia, and their carers and families. I really do, with all sincerity, pay tribute to her for the incredible work she has done on this cause.

We are blessed across Calderdale with some truly brilliant people and volunteers who work tirelessly to improve the lives of those living with dementia, their carers and their loved ones, and I will pay tribute to them later in my remarks. At a recent event at Halifax town hall, I was asked to host a Q&A with Scott Mitchell, who was married to the wonderful Barbara Windsor for 20 years before she passed away—six years after receiving a dementia diagnosis. Scott is one of the most incredible advocates for those with dementia, and it has been a pleasure to get to know him better following that event.

There are not many things Boris Johnson really got right in his time in office, but credit to him for setting up the Dame Barbara Windsor dementia mission, which launched in August 2022. I was so pleased that Scott was officially appointed the people’s champion for the dementia mission in March this year. Scott recently introduced both myself and the shadow Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, to the co-chair of the mission, Hilary Evans of Alzheimer’s Research UK. I am delighted to say that no one was left in any doubt that we 100% support the mission, and will very much do so if we have the opportunity and privilege to be in government in the not-too-distant future.

The work of the mission really matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth has outlined, the numbers on dementia are nothing short of terrifying. Nearly 1 million people are living with dementia in the UK; with an ageing population, that is set to increase to 1.7 million by 2040. That means that one in two of us will be affected by dementia in our lifetime, either because we will care for someone with the condition, develop it ourselves, or both. Sadly, dementia is the UK’s biggest killer, accounting for more than one in 10 deaths. Nearly 75,000 people died from dementia in 2022, which is an increase of 5,000 from 2021. Shockingly, those numbers will be us: one in two of us in this room will be affected. It is enough to make you want to throw the whole kitchen—never mind the kitchen sink—at finding treatments and solutions as part of early and effective diagnosis and treatment pathways.

I am grateful to the Alzheimer’s Society, which was in Parliament yesterday at an event hosted—again—by my hon. Friend. It told me that the diagnosis rate for those living with dementia in Halifax is 66.1%, so around a third of those living with dementia do so without a diagnosis, which could unlock care and support.

It is in everybody’s interest to get this right. My hon. Friend talked about the fact that, while we do not want to reduce decisions about people’s wellbeing and their health and social care to facts and figures on finances, it is clearly nonsensical not to get a grip on this issue, because that would both deliver economic benefits and potentially transform people’s lives. Dementia has a huge impact on our economy and is costing the UK £25 billion every year—I think my hon. Friend actually had a higher estimate. However, Alzheimer’s Research UK is keen to stress that investment in research also has economic benefits, and every £1 invested in dementia research generates £2.59 in the UK economy.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s recent report on post-diagnostic support for dementia, “Left to Cope Alone”, engaged with over 2,000 people affected by dementia. Just 25% said they or their loved one had had an annual dementia review within the last 12 months. Only 16% said they had received enough support from local services in the last 12 months, which, I am sorry to say, reflects the experiences of too many families I have spoken to. It has to be said that investing in the NHS workforce, in diagnostics and in research and treatments will pay dividends. There is reason to be hopeful about the progress being made and the breakthroughs under way, as my hon. Friend touched on, but now is the time to redouble our efforts, not to take our foot off the gas.

At a local level, we have some brilliant people in Calderdale who have dedicated a great deal of time, going over and above, to provide care and support for those living with dementia and their families. I pay tribute to Chris and June Harvey, who run the wonderful Memory Lane Café for people with dementia and their carers. Chris and June have been instrumental not only in running pop-up cafés in churches and community centres in Sowerby Bridge and Halifax, but in setting up and delivering campaigns to make Sowerby Bridge and Halifax as dementia-friendly as possible. Alongside Shabir Hussain of Bluebird Care, they have hosted events bringing together organisations and local residents to achieve that aim, and have engaged directly with businesses to urge them to consider all the ways in which those living with dementia, and their carers, can feel supported in shops in the town centre.