The government has unveiled a new battle plan to help improve the diagnosis and treatment of dementia, and has pledged £150 million over the next two years to help drive forward its strategy and transform services across the UK.

The key aims of the first ever national dementia strategy are to boost awareness of condition, ensure early diagnosis and treatment, and “radically improve” the quality of care patients receive, in preparation for the expected huge increase in the number of patients over the coming decades.

Dementia already costs the National Health Service £3.3 billion and the UK economy £17 billion a year, but according to the government this could triple as the number of people suffering from the condition – currently around 570,000 in England alone - looks set to double over the next thirty years as people live longer, underscoring the importance of making sure services are in the best position to cope with the rising numbers.

"In an ageing society, caring for people with dementia is one of the most important challenges we face. I know that for many people, diagnosis can be difficult, care can be patchy and without adequate support, families can be under huge stress. All that must change,” said Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Boosting diagnoses
One of the biggest problems with current services is that only about a third of dementia patients are formally diagnosed, so the government is setting up specialist memory clinics across the country to improve the accuracy of diagnosis and enable patients to get earlier treatment.

In addition, it says GPs should be trained to better recognise early signs of the condition to help patients get help at an earlier stage of their disease and thereby remain independent for longer, and that a member of staff should be identified in each hospital and care home and tasked with leading improvements to quality of care.

The strategy also calls for the appointment of dementia advisers to help guide and support patients and their families throughout the illness, which Johnson says will be "crucial in making sure people and families get the help they need”.

Commenting on the strategy, Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said it “sets out an ambitious national rescue plan to transform the lives of people living with dementia. One million people will develop dementia in the next ten years. This is a momentous opportunity to avert a dementia crisis that could overwhelm the NHS and social care”.

No new commitment to research
But the Alzheimer’s Research Trust has voiced criticism that it has made no provisions for dementia research, and is leading calls for a commitment to funding.

“The government expects its strategy’s dementia care measures to save £1 billion over the next ten years. If the government was really committed to social justice and financial prudence, it would reinvest this money into dementia research,” said Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.

“We have world-leading dementia experts in the UK, making exciting progress in their fight against this disease, but they are struggling for want of funds. If research results in a five year delay in the development of dementia, we could halve the number of people who die with the disease,” she stressed.

And the charity quotes Greg Mulholland MP, Liberal Democrat shadow health minister, as commenting: “This long overdue strategy is a fundamentally missed opportunity. No increase in research funding means we will remain no closer to understanding dementia or addressing the devastating impact that it has on the thousands of people and their families.”