Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Dementia 'must get top priority'

By Jane Dreaper
BBC News health correspondent

Elderly man
Campaigners say much more needs to be done to tackle dementia

The government's main adviser on its dementia strategy for England has said the condition must not be regarded "as an inevitable part of growing old".

Professor Sube Banerjee said dementia was a "horrible brain disease" which should receive a top priority.

He confirmed part of the strategy, expected soon, would focus on trying to reduce admissions to care homes.

Care services minister, Phil Hope, said he shared campaigners' frustration about delays to the strategy.

The current system allows anybody to make a diagnosis of dementia - so in fact nobody ends up doing it
Professor Sube Banerjee
The plan was originally due to be published last October.

Professor Banerjee, who runs services in Croydon, said although dementia services around the country varied, in general the level of provision was "vanishingly small".

The amount of prescribing of drugs to treat dementia was in the same region as that in Poland and the Slovak Republic.

Different approach

He told a seminar in central London: "I want to explain why the shiny piece of paper we'll generate soon will be different to the other shiny pieces of paper that have gone before it.

"The NICE guidelines on dementia contain a very long list of stuff that we don't do.

"Why is that? The evidence base has become firmer in the last five years - but the messages haven't been understandable to people who are commissioning the services, or to the professionals.

"The current system allows anybody to make a diagnosis of dementia - so in fact nobody ends up doing it."

Professor Banerjee's research has revealed that the amount of people with dementia in the UK will double in the next 30 years.

He said: "The amount spent on people with dementia in care homes is 7bn a year.

"There are excellent homes - but people generally don't want to go into a home.

"If we accept a possible decrease in admissions and are able to instead spend more time in improving the quality of life for people with dementia, the plan will be cost-effective."

But Bupa's head of mental health, Dr Graham Stokes, warned that care homes should not necessarily be seen as a last resort.

He said: "I can't see how all the aspirations of the dementia strategy are deliverable.

"We need a dedicated service for people with dementia."

In a statement, Mr Hope said: "I share the frustration with the delays in publishing the strategy. But we cannot afford to get this wrong."

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