The National Health Service is 70 years old today. Hear from our CEO, Jeremy Hughes, about the successes of our health and care services, and how things could improve for people affected by dementia.
As the NHS turns 70, of course we must celebrate the progress made and all the support on offer. But we must also acknowledge what’s missing.
Times have changed, needs have changed, and we have to make sure our health and care services are equipped for the challenge of our ageing society.
Dementia in the UK today
More and more people are living with dementia – 850,000 in the UK today, expected to reach 1 million by 2021 – and too many are doing it alone.
Diagnosis rates are rising but the postcode lottery persists. Everyone with dementia has a right to know they have it. Yet a third still don’t get a diagnosis, so they can’t access advice and support or make plans for the future. We’ve come a long way from the days of anti-psychotic drugs and asylums, but there is still much more to be done.
Our overstretched NHS
When the NHS and the National Assistance Act were born in 1948, the system was meant to treat everyone equally. No-one meant for it to support people with some health conditions and leave others out in the cold – but for people with dementia, that is what’s happened. As well as NHS support, they rely on social care, because there are no drugs to cure or effectively treat the disease.
The NHS is currently burning through up to £400m a year on avoidable hospital stays for people with dementia, which better social care could prevent.
On top of that, people with dementia are getting stuck in hospital when they’re well enough to leave because there is no support for them outside, costing another £170m a year. This is all piling pressure on our already overstretched NHS.
It shouldn’t and needn’t be like this.
The success of dementia initiatives
In Bristol, there’s a Dementia Wellbeing Service where NHS and Alzheimer’s Society staff work side by side. They provide lifelong support that has transformed the care on offer and driven up diagnosis rates.
Dementia United initiatives across Greater Manchester have seen places such as Stockport provide training. NHS staff, from doctors to delivery drivers, are trained so that people with dementia get better support in the community.
Our new Dementia Connect service is already giving families in Lancashire, Birmingham and Solihull more joined-up care. It is bringing GPs together with our expert Dementia Advisers and dedicated volunteers.
Projects like Care4Bolton and Stafford’s Acute Visiting Service spare people with dementia the stress of a hospital stay. They save the NHS money by treating urgent but not life-threatening issues at home.
Why are these brilliant initiatives not in place everywhere? We know staff on the frontline work tirelessly and provide great care, but too often this is despite the system rather than because of it.
The gift of funding
The £20 billion a year ‘birthday present’ for the NHS is desperately needed. But without putting money into social care, it’s like pouring water into a leaky bucket.
Just a fraction of that funding would be able to join up the system. Meanwhile it would create a Dementia Care Fund to level the playing field. It would stop people with dementia having to pay for support while those with other diseases get it for free.
It’s simply unacceptable that families affected by dementia typically spend £100k of their own money on essential care that people with other diseases can get on the NHS.
Health and social care, side by side
We’re all immensely proud of our NHS, but too often social care is treated like its poor relation. Both sides of the system are 70 and both deserve investment and attention. Would you throw a birthday party for one twin and not invite the other?
We need urgent action and bold reform to overhaul the entire system. Then, it can deliver high quality care at a fair price for everyone who needs it.
How can you help?
- Join our campaigning network to become part of the wider movement that is pushing for positive change in the lives of people affected by dementia.