Vicky McClure and Dame Arlene Phillips, joined by Debbie Abrahams MP, Elliot Colburn MP and Ananga Moonesinghe, who lives with dementia, today delivered an open letter to PM Rishi Sunak at Downing Street, demanding the Government urgently fulfil their promises on dementia.

Launched by leading dementia charity Alzheimer’s Society, the open letter has been signed by over 36,000 members of the public and famous names including Dame Arlene Philips and Vicky McClure. They were both joined at the hand-in by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia Chair Debbie Abrahams MP and Vice-Chair Elliot Colburn MP, showing cross-party support. It urges Rishi Sunak to deliver on previous Conservative Party commitments to dementia and not let the UK’s biggest killer fall down the political agenda.

Actor and Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Vicky McClure said:  “Government is failing people with dementia. I’ve seen this first-hand with members of my Our Dementia Choir who are left struggling and alone after a diagnosis, unsure where to get the support they so desperately need. Social care workers that they depend on are often utterly broken and exhausted, trying to provide care while being overstretched, under-paid, and under-trained. Those who care for people with dementia need to be supported; not neglected during a deep workforce crisis.

“People living with dementia and their carers must get the basic care and support they need to live fulfilled lives – things like breaks for carers, music therapy, and support groups. We’ve heard lots of ambitious words from Government about dementia, but words need to become action. Rishi Sunak must make dementia a priority.”

Choreographer and Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Dame Arlene Philips said: “The last Government made clear commitments to drive up dementia research, diagnosis rates and improve care and now it’s up to PM Rishi Sunak to deliver them. Sadly, like thousands of families up and down the country, I’ve seen the toll dementia can take, while caring for my own father. People are left desperate and alone with overstretched carers having to decide between giving them a hot meal or a wash. When the right care and treatment isn’t available, people with dementia are left at risk of crisis. This letter is loud and clear – deliver on these commitments and give people affected by dementia in this country the care and support they deserve.”

With diagnosis rates still sitting below pre-pandemic levels, national figures reveal people are waiting up to two years in some areas for a diagnosis*, thereby missing out on vital treatment and support. Alzheimer’s Society research also shows three in five people affected by dementia struggled to get social care in the past year, with half of family carers revealing they ended up in crisis, such as rushing their loved one to A&E due to lack of support**.

The charity is concerned the deepening workforce crisis in social care – with vacancies sitting at 165,000*** – risks leaving people with dementia desperate for help while living costs soar. Alzheimer’s Society say it’s more important now than ever for the Government to prioritise dementia.

In the past year, the Government has made many commitments on dementia, promising to deliver a ‘visionary ten-year plan’ for dementia, to reform the social care system and double spending on dementia research by 2024.  Alzheimer’s Society says the delivery of these will be transformational for the lives of the 900,000 people living with dementia but calls on the Government to urgently make these a reality to prevent a deepening crisis in dementia care.

This follows the news last year that a new drug, lecanemab, was shown to slow cognitive decline in people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, this breakthrough will mean little if diagnosis rates remain stagnant and often inaccurate. This treatment works best for people with early Alzheimer’s disease. Without early and accurate diagnosis, we risk hopeful advancements like this having minimal effect.

Kate Lee, Alzheimer’s Society CEO, said: “Dementia awareness and support has come a long way since the disease came into my family sixteen years ago – but there is still so much to do. Too many people still face dementia alone, and PM Rishi Sunak has the chance to seize this moment and genuinely transform dementia research, diagnosis, and care for one of the biggest health challenges in the UK.

“We’ve welcomed previous commitments from the Government, but we’re concerned they’re falling by the wayside. The recommitment to the National Dementia Mission – to double dementia research spend – was a promising step, but we’re yet to see tangible action, while progress on the ten-year plan on dementia has stalled and social care reform scrapped. When asked for an update, the Government have told us ‘in due course’ 25 times*, which isn’t good enough – sadly dementia doesn’t wait for ‘due course’. Quite simply dementia is not a priority.

“We’re still in the middle of a tough winter, with one in seven people with dementia stopping or reducing their support services. Families have had to make impossible choices in the face of inadequate care from a broken social care system. But hope is on the horizon – we saw the first ever drug to slow down Alzheimer’s disease late last year, showing that this is a fight we can win. Our letter to the Prime Minister urges for change – a massive reform of social care, a visionary ten-year plan for dementia, and the National Dementia Mission funding to unlock treatments for people now and in the future.”

Ananga, who lives with dementia, 76, from Luton, said: “I’m travelling to the steps of Downing Street today to send an important message to the Government – make dementia a priority. When I was diagnosed, in the two years under the care of the Memory Clinic I was only told I had dementia and given medication. I didn’t get enough support and had to find it all out on my own. Dementia is just as important as any other condition and the Government need to make good on their promises for people living with dementia now and in the future.”

Debbie Abrahams, MP and Chair of the APPG on Dementia, said: “Previous Conservative Prime Ministers have actively committed to improving the lives of people affected by dementia.  Now Rishi Sunak must deliver on promises to reform social care, double dementia research funding and release a ten-year plan for dementia which gives the condition the priority it deserves. The 36,000 people who signed the open letter are making themselves clear – they don’t just want to hear empty promises, they want to see action. People with dementia can’t and won’t wait any longer.”

 

Alzheimer’s Society responds to government statement

Associate Director of Advocacy and System Change, Mark MacDonald, said: “While the Government’s commitments to invest in social care and dementia research are a step in the right direction, it’s simply nowhere near enough, the scale of the challenge demands a whole system, Government-backed, long-term strategy.

“Diagnosis rates remain below pre-pandemic levels, our social care system is broken, and we must seize the future opportunities of potential treatments.  Hundreds of thousands of people living with dementia endure inadequate care, crippling costs and impossible choices due to a system that currently doesn’t work for them.

“Prioritising dementia won’t just help those affected by this heart-breaking disease.  It will directly address so many of the challenges and pressures we know the NHS and social care system faces now and into the future.

“That’s why we need a visionary ten-year plan for the ticking time-bomb of dementia – to tackle the big problems in dementia care but also to capitalise on the opportunities provided by exciting new research. We have been told 25 times that the plan is coming in ‘due course’ but dementia does not wait for ‘due course’. People living with dementia have been waiting too long and expect action now. We, as ever, stand ready to work with the Government to turn their promises into action.”

 

Statement from DHSC

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We want a society where every person with dementia, their families and carers, receive high quality, compassionate care, from diagnosis through to end of life.

“We invested £17 million in tackling dementia waiting lists and increasing diagnosis rates last year and we have committed to double the funding for dementia research to £160 million a year by 2024/25.

“We are making up to £7.5 billion over the next two years available to support adult social care and discharge – the biggest funding increase in history – and are promoting careers in care through our annual domestic recruitment campaign and by investing £15 million to increase international recruitment of carers.”