Jeremy Hunt: Let's invest in dementia

15 January 2013

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt believes that more needs to be done with regards to dementia, in terms of treatment, investment and making people aware of the syndrome.

In an article that he penned for the Telegraph, Mr Hunt explained that in the 20th century, cancer "was a word whose very mention would strike fear and dread".

Today, in the 21st century, that equivalent is dementia, which is a syndrome that is connected to the ongoing decline of the brain and its ability to function as normal.

He highlighted that before the 1970s, treatment for the condition was poor, "bleak" even, with the stigma attached to it "rife".

"Today, a similar cloud hangs over dementia," the health secretary. "With cases expected to hit one million within two years, and doubling within a generation, we need the same progress as with cancer."

Mr Hunt added that the key difference is that if the current coalition government is to make the NHS sustainable, they have to do it quickly: "We don't have 50 years to sort it out".

His comments come on the back of new statistics released by the Alzheimer's Society, which showed that diagnosis of the condition throughout the UK is inconsistent.

For example, rates of diagnosis range from 31.6 per cent in the East Riding of Yorkshire to 75.5 per cent in Belfast, which suggests that there are some shortcomings and a lack of uniformity.

The charity also alerted to the fact that there has been a three per cent rise in the number of people in the UK being diagnosed with dementia, while another 428,000 are living with the condition without knowing it.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that it was a disgrace that so many people are not being diagnosed and that the statistics about regional disparities in identifying the condition is disappointing.

"This goes against best clinical practice and is preventing people with dementia from accessing the support, benefits and the medical treatments that can help them live well with the condition," he added.

"Studies show that an early diagnosis can save the taxpayer thousands of pounds, because it can delay someone needing care outside of their own home. The NHS has already made a commitment to improving diagnosis rates but more needs to be done to ensure people with dementia are able to live as well as possible with the disease."

Mr Hunt tried to explain why there are such variations in the identification of dementia. He said that while the reasons are complex, as with cancer in the past, many healthcare professionals simply lack the knowledge and skills to identify the syndrome.

"Some even believe that without effective cure there’s no point putting people through the anxiety of a memory test - even though drugs can help stave off the condition for several years," he went on to say in the newspaper.

"It is this grim fatalism that we need to shake off. Not just within our health service but across society as a whole. This is no time for timidity: by changing the way we think about dementia we really can make a difference and improve the lives of people who live with the condition."

Posted by Edward Bartel

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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