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

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 1:19 pm on 16 May 2024.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Women) 1:19, 16 May 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I thank Debbie Abrahams for securing this debate and for her collaborative work on the issue, which brings everyone together. She is right to point out that dementia is not an automatic part of ageing—there is still a stereotype that does not recognise that—but early onset dementia is also an issue. Young people with dementia often struggle to get the help and support they need because it is seen as a disease of old age.

It was incredible to hear the hon. Lady describe her own experience of caring for her mother, Angela, which must have been so difficult. I think most of us have been affected by dementia in some way. My mother-in-law died from dementia last year. It is just terrible seeing people we know and love change in often such a dramatic way. Even with the best care and support available in the world, it is still difficult.

Holly Lynch talked about her good experience with local services and the importance of dementia-friendly communities. She is absolutely right. My hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell contributed with his own experience, and spoke about the changes he would like to see to improve the care and experience of those who suffer with dementia.

The all-party parliamentary group on dementia does fantastic work. In her role as chair, the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth is doing groundbreaking work, particularly on reports and surveys to flag issues based on the experience of those who provide dementia services and look after loved ones. In Dementia Action Week, I thank everyone involved in supporting people with dementia, particularly unpaid carers, as the shadow Minister, Andrew Gwynne, said.

I want to reassure hon. Members that this Government are passionate about improving care, and we have a clear mission to make our NHS and social care system much more responsive to people’s needs. The hon. Member for Halifax pointed out the important work of the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in setting up the Dame Barbara Windsor dementia mission. The previous Prime Minister, David Cameron, instigated a lot of research in this space as well.

I say this with my Minister for Women hat on: the leading cause of death among women is dementia. We also know that one in three people will be diagnosed with dementia in their lifetime, and that by 2040 1.6 million of us will be living with the condition, so it has to be a priority for diagnosis, treatment and support. I welcome the research this week from the Alzheimer’s Society, which highlights the economic impact of dementia and further outlines why it must be a priority.

The theme of today’s debate is the inequalities that exist across the country, and the wide variety of people’s experiences in getting a diagnosis and the support and care that they need. Yes, we can put more money and resources in, and I will outline some of the funding we are providing, but we also need a cultural shift. Although dementia is seen as a natural part of ageing, given diagnostic overshadowing other health conditions affecting people with dementia are often completely ignored because they are taken as part of the dementia diagnosis. When someone with dementia has a urinary tract infection, they will often be confused and agitated or even crying out in pain. It is seen as part of their dementia, when actually they could improve considerably with some simple antibiotics to treat that UTI. Sometimes we need to look at the culture around dementia across the system.

I want to highlight some of the work and research that we are already doing to look at diagnosis and treatment. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth about the central database. Each ICB holds its own individual database, but I will go back to colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to see whether we can bring data together to look at disparities across the country.

Last year we announced our plan to publish a major conditions strategy. Dementia is one of the six conditions covered by the strategy, alongside cancer, cardiovascular disease and other major conditions. It is important that dementia is seen as a major condition and not just a part of ageing. Part of the work that we need to do is around the timely diagnosis of dementia, to ensure that anyone with dementia can access advice, information, care and support.

Our ambition is for two thirds of people living with dementia to receive a formal diagnosis. The shadow Minister probably knows what I am going to say. Absolutely —what he said sounds wonderful. However, Labour is in charge of healthcare in Wales and its ambition in the dementia action plan there is to increase diagnosis by 3% a year. We all want to see an increase in diagnosis rates, but we also need to be realistic and in some of the ambitions elsewhere that has not always been the case.