Johnson: Dementia and learning disabilities a top priority

Health secretary Alan Johnson has unveiled new measures to make people with learning disabilities a priority in the NHS and has promised improved care for dementia.

Failures in healthcare for people with learning disabilities highlighted by Mencap in a 2007 report and by a subsequent inquiry were “horrific” and “totally and utterly unacceptable”, he said.

The Department of Health has yet to publish its official response to the inquiry but Johnson said care for people with learning disabilities would be included in the next NHS operating framework, which sets out priorities for the year ahead.

Speaking at the National Children and Adult Services Conference in Liverpool, Johnson said NHS chief executive David Nicholson would write to strategic health authorities asking them to report on their performance in this area, while learning disabled patients will gain access to “comprehensive annual health checks”.

As previously announced, these will be provided by GPs on a voluntary basis with cash incentives.

Johnson also told social services bosses that the forthcoming national dementia strategy would attempt to tackle the stigma and ignorance of the illness, which he likened to that previously attached to cancer 30 years ago.

A national campaign involving professionals, people living with dementia and the media will be also launched, along the lines of the government’s mental health campaign, Shift.

Citing research that a third of GPs felt their skills in identifying and treating the illness were insufficient, Johnson said this would be included in the core professional training for all clinicians.

“People with dementia and their families are frequently told that the illness is an inevitable consequence of old age,” he said, but he added: “Dementia is not a death sentence.”

Johnson also said the debate around the government’s green paper on adult care was “the most important since the creation of the welfare state” and added that the paper was due to be published in the New Year.

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