Alzheimers – another reason why we shouldn’t cut the science budget

Two of the great achievements of last century were that life expectancy was practically doubled and terminal illnesses became chronic conditions. But the challenge these achievements leaves us with is the number of elderly people for whom we need to provide care. The fastest growing age group in the UK is those aged over 80 years, now constituting 4.5% of the population. One in five of these will develop dementia. The average cost of care that a 65-year-old will require during their retirement is £30,000 and the average annual cost of a care home place is £24,000.

Today is World Alzheimer’s Day and the desire is to see better provision for people with dementia. There hasn’t yet been an evaluation of the English Dementia Strategy (although undertaking this is mentioned in the White Paper) but what we know already is that investment in Alzheimer’s research is inadequate. In 2007, public funding of dementia was £7 per head pf population in the UK – in the USA it was £52. In 2007-8 the Medical Research Council and Department of Health gave cancer research £248.2m while dementia research received £32.43m. Yet the cost of supporting people with dementia in the UK is estimated to be £17Bn, more than the cost of cancer and heart disease combined, not least because of the additional ‘social’ care that those with dementia require. The division between health and social care is a confusing one for families and an unhelpful one for designing efficient integrated care services.

Section 5 of the Structural Reform Plan (SRP) that accompanied the White Paper stated that its purpose was to: reform the system of social care to provide much more control to individuals and their carers, easing the cost burden that they and their families face. Subsequent to this the ‘The Commission on the Funding of Care and Support’ was announced with the remit of reviewing the funding of social care. Derek Wanless writing in response said it had the difficult task of : defuse some explosive issues including ensuring fairness between the generations, how risk should be pooled, the degree of choice and compulsion in the funding arrangements, the role of wider tax and benefit systems, and the balance between universality and means-testing.

There are two messages here. We need to up our investment in research into conditions like Alzheimer’s which are placing increasing pressures on our economy. Secondly we need to identify the advantages and achievements of integrated (health and social) care organisations so we can move beyond the pilots. Clarifying funding streams, integrating IT, reviewing domiciliary care all are vital to avoid wasteful duplication and achieve the joined-up, improved care that our elderly relatives deserve.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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1 Response to Alzheimers – another reason why we shouldn’t cut the science budget

  1. John says:

    You quote the views of Derek Wanless, but why should we hang on his words ?

    He is dyed-in-the-wool banker, with not a single days employment in the Health Service. The Wanless NHS Funding Report in 2002 rashly recommended a £43 billion injection into the NHS, at the behest of Gordon Brown who wanted a scapegoat for NI rises. In the absence if strict spending caveats in the Wanless Funding Report, taxpayers hard earned funds merely made millionaires out of GP’s, and put NHS mandarins into the ‘super rich’ category.

    So what about the Wanless banking career ? Well, he was ousted from NatWest in 1999 for failed strategic judgment, leaving the bank prey to takeover by Fred Goodwin of RBS. Wanless went off to join Northern Rock, where he was the Rock’s lambasted Head of Risk at the time of its collapse.

    So please – no more reference to Wanless’ views – the UK cannot afford any more of his wisdom.

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