Open Forum – 07 December

Cutting drugs to people with dementia is perverse when they have been promised better care, writes Neil Hunt

It’s been hard to miss the furore surrounding the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s (Nice) decision to deny drug treatments to people in the early and late stages of Alzheimer’s disease because of cost.

This is a clinically perverse decision that may set the care of people with this debilitating disease back decades. Remarkably, on the same day as this decision came into force, Nice and the Social Care Institute for Excellence released new guidelines on the care of people with all types of dementia.

The cynic in me can’t help but be angered at this botched policy making, talking about improving care on one hand and  snatching away drug treatments that can improve people’s quality of life with the other.

However, amid this confusing debacle there was a glimmer of hope for people with dementia.

Nice hailed the dementia care guidelines as a great opportunity to integrate health and social care.

Integrating services is a well-worn mantra, but it is far from a reality for thousands of people with dementia who often fall between the cracks of this artificial service divide. It is great news that Nice has this as a key priority, but we must make sure that this isn’t just another set of guidelines that gather dust on people’s shelves.

The guidelines identify nine priorities for dementia care. The highest priority must be training of all staff caring for someone with dementia. In care homes more than 75 per cent of people have dementia yet it is a shocking indictment that only 10 per cent of care staff will have had any dementia care training.

Putting these policies into practice could really change dementia care for the better, not just for those affected, but also for people working in the field. But we all know that we are likely to see drug cuts before we see service investment. The number of people with dementia is expected to double to 1.8 million by 2040 and they deserve both care and treatment. It’s time the government made dementia a health priority.

Neil Hunt is chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society


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