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

I think it is ambitious for two thirds of people living with dementia to receive a formal diagnosis, because we are not there yet. We are putting some building blocks in place to improve things.

We know that the pandemic had a significant effect, because we shut down routine care for just over two years. It was very difficult then for someone to see their GP with concerns about potential symptoms of dementia, so the treatment of conditions such as dementia suffered as a result of lockdown. However, we are recovering diagnosis rates and a lot of work is going into that. Nevertheless, I absolutely recognise that some parts of the country have made a better recovery than others. Addressing that must be a focus of our work going forward.

NHS England has committed to recover dementia diagnosis rates to that national ambition and is providing clear guidance to integrated care boards, particularly where performance is not where we want it to be, to make sure that that happens. As part of the spending review in 2021-22, £17 million was allocated to the NHS to address dementia waiting lists and increase the number of diagnoses, which, as I say, was adversely impacted by the pandemic.

NHS England is funding an evidence-based improvement project for two trusts in each region, with 14 sites in total, to pilot the diagnosing advanced dementia mandate tool in order to improve diagnoses rates and so that people know what they should be doing when they are trying to get a diagnosis. That includes people in care homes and those who may not have relatives or friends to advocate on their behalf and help them to get a diagnosis in the first place.

We touched a little on research. I pay tribute to charity partners working with the National Institute for Health and Care Research, or NIHR, to try and find diagnostic tools to provide better diagnoses at an earlier stage, including things such as the blood biomarker and the blood biomarker challenge, which seeks to produce the clinical and economic data to make the case for a blood biomarker test in healthcare across the UK—so including our friends in Wales—to improve dementia diagnosis. That is how we will really find out who is at most risk and get them diagnosed earlier.

We are committed to supporting that research and will double funding for dementia research to £160 million a year by the end of this current financial year. That will be around not just diagnosis but treatment and other research elements. The Dame Barbara Windsor dementia mission is deeply embedded in that work and I thank it for its work in that regard.

I turn to the prevention of dementia. The NIHR is investing £9 million into the three schools dementia programme. There must be risk factors for dementia that we are unaware of at the moment and that vital research could be a game-changer in the future. The NIHR is also supporting the Promoting Independence in Dementia or PRIDE study, which aims to identify how social and lifestyle changes could reduce the risk of developing dementia at any stage of someone’s life—I was going to say “later in life”, but dementia can affect any age group.

That takes me on to treatments. Drugs are currently being appraised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to determine whether they should be made available on the NHS. I know that many, many people are waiting for those appraisals and hope that they will be positive. We expect NICE to publish guidance in July and September respectively, and we want to make sure that if the decision is positive, we are able to provide fair and equitable access to any licensed and approved medication. We will hopefully hear very soon about that.

I want to touch on post-diagnostic support, which is a key part of people’s experience with dementia. Everyone should have access to meaningful care. I want to talk about the work of Admiral nurses, who do a tremendous job but are not available everywhere. It is down to individual ICBs to commission those services. The additional roles reimbursement scheme that is available to primary care networks and GP practices allows for enhanced nurses in dementia care to be employed. I encourage MPs to check with their ICBs, PCN and GPs to see whether that is something being used.

Admiral nurses do a fantastic job. It is not just about supporting people with dementia and their families. One critical area is continuing care applications. Very often people with dementia are turned down for continuing care, and Admiral nurses will often get those decisions overturned. I am not commenting on that, but they do have that experience. Sometimes dementia care may appear on the surface to be social care, but it actually is clinical nursing care, so that NHS/social care divide can be bridged.

Local authorities have a duty under the Care Act 2014 to provide or arrange services that meet the needs of the local population. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford talked about various conflicts between neighbouring local authorities. The reason we brought in integrated care boards was to bridge the gap between not only the NHS and social care but neighbouring local authorities. I encourage my hon. Friend to speak to his ICB to see whether they can do anything to better commission services for patients, so that it does not matter which edge of a borough someone lives in and to ensure that care is more joined up.