NHS chief answers criticisms over lack of priority for dementia

NHS chief executive David Nicholson has answered criticisms over the government’s failure to make dementia a priority for the health service.

A report this month by the National Audit Office criticised the government’s implementation of the National Dementia Strategy for England in its first year.

The NAO concluded that the Department of Health’s failure to make dementia a national priority for the NHS had hampered reform.

Speaking to the House of Commons public accounts committee yesterday, Nicholson conceded that dementia was not among the three tiers of priorities set for the NHS, under its operating framework.

He said the framework was developed to cover the last comprehensive spending review period, which began in 2008, before the publication of the dementia strategy in February 2009.

The NHS operating framework operates on three tiers with tier one priorities set nationally with prescribed actions, tier two priorities set nationally but with no prescribed actions and tier three priorities left to be determined at a local level. The committee heard that dementia did not appear within any of the tiers.

Andrew Chidgey, head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, was disappointed with Nicholson’s explanation. He said: “We don’t see why the NHS operating framework can’t change over time.” He added that both health secretary Andy Burnham and care services minister Phil Hope have said dementia should be a priority area for health and social care reform.

Nicholson told the committee the process of gearing the health service up to deal with dementia was one of the most complex challenges the NHS had ever taken on. He said: “This is far more complicated than delivering shorter waiting time targets or delivering reduced health care acquired infections.”

He also announced that a publicity campaign to raise public and professional awareness of dementia would launch in March.

Chidgey welcomed this announcement. He said: “Now is the crunch time for the dementia strategy and in the next six months to a year we will see whether things are starting to change demonstrably for people with dementia.”

Dementia conference

Community Care is running a conference to mark the first anniversary of the national dementia strategy in central London on 11 February. Find out more and book your place.

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