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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:02 pm on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care) 1:02, 16 May 2024

That is why we need to have a strong national framework with an expectation that these services are delivered to the required outcomes, with very strong targets across the whole of England. I get the nuance between local government finance and the interrelationship with adult social care and NHS budgets. We have to be smarter at working around all of this. As a former shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I realise that this is not a debate on local government finance, but the two are interrelated. I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Romford.

In order to get this reformed, reshaped social care sector, and particularly within the scope of there being an ever-growing population of people living with dementia, we need to fix the crisis in our NHS, which is intrinsically linked with our social care system, to address the inequalities in dementia care. As we have already heard, that care starts with timely and accurate diagnosis. A third of those currently living with dementia in the UK do not have a diagnosis, and that prevents them from accessing the vital care, support and treatment they need.

This is also about allowing people to have some degree of certainty and to make different life choices based on that. If I found out that I had early-onset dementia, I could hopefully access some of these new drugs available. In doing so, I would very much hope that I could tick off a few more things on my bucket list. I might want to spend more time with my family and take them on a chance-of-a-lifetime holiday, making memories. People are deprived of making those choices. I do not think it is good enough to have a third of people left undiagnosed. That is the national target being met, and as we have heard, in large parts of the country it is not being met.

I want us to get to a much more rigorous national target. If Stoke can diagnose 90% of people with dementia, so can the rest of the country because Stoke is not a rich area or a well-sourced local authority. Its NHS is not awash with any more cash than other areas of the country; if they can get 90%, so can the rest of the country, with concerted effort. That is why having a strong central target, and an emphasis from the Minister to make that a priority, is going to be important. It will be the priority of the next Labour Government to increase that target and demand that local systems not only meet but exceed it, because this is people’s lives that we are talking about.

As we know, earlier diagnosis means better care and outcomes—it could not be simpler. The national target of two thirds is not good enough. I am not content that a third of people, and even more in many areas failing to meet the target, are living with dementia and going without vital care. With primary care under such immense strain, people simply cannot get through the front door. That is why the next Labour Government will be committed to making the future of general practice sustainable, and to taking pressure off those currently working in the system. We will bolster the workforce so that all patients, including those with dementia, can get timely care. That is why Labour will deliver on the NHS long- term workforce plan to train the staff the NHS needs, now and in the future.

Once a diagnosis has been made, continuity and ease of access to care is crucial to long-term outcomes. That is why one of the fundamental shifts that the next Labour Government will deliver in our health and care system is taking focus of care out of hospitals and into the community. Unlike the last time that was done, principally for people with dementia and learning disabilities, the money has to flow from hospital to community as well, which scandalously did not previously happen.

Labour will work with the NHS and social care providers to bring services together in local communities. It is by having those services embedded where people are that we will deliver another crucial shift to a health and care service relentlessly focused on prevention. Alzheimer’s Society research shows us that mild dementia costs £29,000 per person per year, compared to £81,000 for severe dementia. That provides proof, if ever we needed it, that the case for focused prevention is clear for not just patient outcomes but the financial sustainability of services.

As well as looking at the here and now, we must also look at the challenges on the horizon. Our understanding of dementia is constantly evolving. That is why continued leadership in research and embracing the latest technological advances and developments are so vital to ensuring we stay ahead of the game. Labour is committed to putting Britain at the front of the queue for new treatments by boosting clinical trial activity in the NHS. We will speed up recruitment to trials, and give more people the chance to participate. We will link clinical trial registries to create a national standing registry and harness the power of the NHS app to invite eligible participants to take part in research studies.

I pay tribute to a group that is so vital but yet so often forgotten: unpaid carers. Hundreds of thousands of people care selflessly for their loved ones living with dementia. Make no mistake: without the work of unpaid carers the system would simply collapse. With 63% of the total cost of dementia being borne by those living with the condition and their families, we know just how raw a deal they are getting. They are a vital part of the fight against dementia, and they will be at the heart of Labour’s plans in Government.

There will be a carers strategy under the next Labour Government, because we value the vital work our carers do. It will be a cross-Government strategy with the Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education and the future of work review all feeding into it along with the Department of Health and Social Care. There is a brighter future for those living with dementia and their families and carers. Labour will deliver it.