A 10-year plan to tackle dementia will have a big focus on prevention, the Health Secretary has said, as he promised a “seismic shift” in how the condition is tackled.
Sajid Javid told the Alzheimer’s Society annual conference in central London his plan will look at why people fall ill, with figures suggesting as much as 40% of dementia is potentially preventable.
“We know now that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain,” he said.
“Action on high blood pressure, physical inactivity, alcohol, obesity and healthy eating all have a part to play.
“So we’re going to be very ambitious on prevention.”
However, charities said the Government had not yet delivered its previous promise to double dementia funding.
Susan Mitchell, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Given the Government has so far not delivered on its 2019 ’Dementia Moonshot’ pledge to double funding for dementia research, we need to see today’s commitments followed up by clear plans with accountability and suitable funding to enable delivery.”
Mr Javid said he wanted his plan, which will be published later this year, to be “more ambitious than anything that we’ve ever done before”.
He added: “To begin with, I want our dementia strategy to be a 10-year plan, not just five because we can only get to grips with long term challenges by thinking long term.
“I’d like us to be as bold as we’ve been with our 10 year-plan for cancer.”
Mr Javid said the Government wanted to be as “equally ambitious on research” as it was on prevention, and to be “bold about finding new medicines and new treatments” and using new technology.
The Government has already committed £375m to research into neurodegenerative diseases over the next five years, he added.
“We are at a crossroads here today,” Mr Javid told delegates. “We understand the challenges that lie ahead.
“When it comes to dementia, we know that there have never been any quick fixes.
“We know that there are not any easy wins. But we also know that when a visionary plan comes together with powerful partners and proper funding, and we couple it with care and compassion, that combination can be unbeatable.
“That’s going to be the mission.”
Figures suggest around 30,000 people with dementia faced delays to getting diagnosed during the Covid-19 pandemic, while a report out on Monday said around 325,000 people in total may be living without a diagnosis.
The latest data from NHS Digital shows that, in March, 62% of those aged 65 or over thought to have dementia have a diagnosis.
This figure has mostly remained the same for the whole of 2021 but was higher in February 2020, before the pandemic, at 68%.
Experts predict that one million people will be living with dementia in the UK by 2025 and 1.6 million by 2040.
Mark MacDonald, associate director of advocacy and system change at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “The Secretary of State today spoke of the ‘seismic shift’ needed in dementia diagnosis and care and a bold 10-year plan that gives the UK’s largest killer the attention it needs.
“As he rightly recognises, we are now at a crucial and promising turning point for dementia care and treatment: we will soon have a new 10-year dementia strategy, a revised long-term plan for the NHS in England and a once-in-a-generation opportunity to demonstrate true integrated care.
“We’re in a stronger position than ever to deliver transformational change to people with dementia.
“However, his words will mean nothing if not backed by equally ambitious funding and delivery mechanisms which put people with dementia at their heart, and who need to see tangible change now.
“We have now been waiting more than two years for the promised Dementia Moonshot to double research funding, which will help us improve care and find a cure.
“For too long Government action has not matched the scale and impact of dementia.
“We welcome the Secretary of State’s ambitious words today but we must now see this translate quickly into meaningful delivery plans for which ministers should be held accountable.”