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Health: Dementia

Volume 702: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their estimate of the number of people who will be suffering from dementia in 10 years’ time.

My Lords, using projections by the Institute of Psychiatry and the London School of Economics presented in the Alzheimer Society’s Dementia UK report, our estimate is that there are currently 700,000 people with dementia in the UK and that that figure will rise to 940,000 by 2021. We have identified dementia as a national health and social care priority, and we are developing a national dementia strategy. The detailed consultation document was published last week.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am delighted with the Government’s decision to establish a national dementia strategy. Can my noble friend confirm to the House that the proportion of her department's research and development budget allocated to dementia has been less than 3 per cent? If that is so, it is disgraceful. The Government are leaving these lost souls in limbo because without proper provision by her department, they have no voice. In view of the remarkable increase in the number of people affected, can we have a remarkable increase in the funds provided for this?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct that there is a huge challenge surrounding the funding of care for dementia. The condition is devastating, which is why we are determined to address those challenges. The department is investing £20 million over five years in the national research network on dementia and neurodegenerative disease, which was launched in 2006. There is already significant government funding in this area—it was close to £25 million in 2005-06. The national dementia strategy, which was launched last Thursday, looks at the priorities with organisations and people who are directly involved in dealing with this condition. Once the strategy is finalised, we will ensure that there are sufficient resources available in overall PCT allocations to deliver on the national and local priorities set out in that strategy.

My Lords, are the Government making any study of the link between dementia and the use of thimerosal in the flu vaccine? Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, and there is growing concern in the United States that its use may be leading to the dramatic increase in dementia to which the Minister referred. Is part of the strategy to consider that; and where are we on that study, if there is one?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not know the details, although I am confident that it will be included in the research being carried out. I will find out about the detailed issue raised by the noble Lord. I will write to him and make the information available to the House.

My Lords, as dementia is now the main cause for people going into residential and nursing care, and the main economic burden of a single illness in this country, what progress is being made to improve the training of staff in community and in residential and nursing care to deal with this issue?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a good point. Training has emerged as a major theme in the development of the national strategy. We need to ensure that basic vocational and professional training provides sufficient expertise in dementia and that continuing professional and vocational training keeps those skills up to date. That is as true for medicine as it is for nurses and social care workers. The strategy’s external reference group, which is chaired by the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, is involved with a range of care people on dementia, including GPs and nurses. We regard this as a priority.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that as well as what she rightly calls the devastating effect of this condition on its sufferers, this condition can have a pretty devastating effect on the families who look after them? How will the national strategy for carers, which was recently launched by the Government, impact on these families?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that many families struggle to keep parents and relatives at home and do not always receive the support that they need. With early diagnosis and intervention—I have to say that only one-third of people with dementia are diagnosed—it is possible to live a good life with dementia, given appropriate and timely care and support. The new deal for carers, which was launched by the Prime Minister on 10 June, is investing a total of £255 million on short-term commitments. The strategy has an ambitious 10-year vision. There is also an increase in the carers’ grant, and we are establishing a carers’ information and service helpline. This link to the Green Paper on the longer-term strategy and the end-of-life care programme will, I hope, show my noble friend that the Government are taking this very seriously indeed.

My Lords, the new dementia strategy is most welcome in that it includes three main strands: one is the crucial importance of improved care; the second is improved methods of management and treatment with drugs and other techniques; and the third is research. Does the noble Baroness accept, however, that there is no current evidence to indicate that heavy metals play any significant part in the causation of Alzheimer’s disease? Many years ago it was thought that aluminium might play such a part. That has now been disproved. The current evidence is against any involvement of other heavy metals in the disease.

My Lords, the noble Lord has very helpfully outlined the national strategy and its main strands. Indeed, he also underlines the need for further and continuing research in this area.

My Lords, given that two-thirds of people who live in residential homes have dementia, does the noble Baroness agree that it is now time to close the loophole through which residential homes can refuse to take people who have dementia, claiming that they cannot deal with their needs?

My Lords, the noble Baroness outlines a very serious problem. Many care homes provide an excellent standard of care, but approximately 80 per cent of people in care homes are now reckoned to suffer from some form of dementia, and the overall numbers will increase with the ageing population. Our strategy is therefore, first, to prevent admissions to care homes through early identification and effective intervention in the community; and, secondly, to ensure that proper standards are met, that staff are properly trained and that the best care is provided for the years ahead.