'Dementia friends' in shops part of new care package

  • 28 February 2014
  • From the section Health
Alzheimer's patient
Image caption Two-thirds of dementia sufferers in the UK are women

A new package of care for dementia sufferers will help fight the illness, the health secretary says.

Jeremy Hunt has announced help from businesses to support customers with dementia, and a "world dementia envoy" has been appointed.

NHS England will invest £90m in an effort to bring down diagnosis waiting times by March next year.

But Labour warned that the government must tackle "poor care standards" in order to combat the condition.

As part of the announcement, 190,000 staff from British businesses, including Marks and Spencer, Argos, Homebase, Lloyds Bank and Lloyds Pharmacy, have signed up to become "dementia friends".

They will be trained to learn how to spot the signs of dementia among customers and offer support for sufferers.

'Heartbreaking disease'

Mr Hunt said: "Dementia can be a horrific and heartbreaking disease, but it is my mission as health secretary to make this country the best place in the world to get a dementia diagnosis, as well as a global leader in the fight to find a cure.

"Today's package is about government, clinicians, business, society and investors coming together to raise our game on every front - from speedy diagnosis to compassionate care, and from help on our High Streets to the quest for a cure."

According to the Alzheimer's Society, there are around 800,000 people in the UK with dementia.

Media captionHealth Secretary Jeremy Hunt: "We are putting in place schemes with hospitals and GPs surgeries across the country to speed up the diagnosis rates"

One in three people over 65 will develop the condition, and two-thirds of sufferers are women.

NHS England will target work in areas where it can take up to 25 weeks to carry out a diagnosis. In other areas, diagnostic assessments can take as little as six weeks.

Mr Hunt added: "To have variation in diagnosis rates from a few weeks to close to six months is totally unacceptable and I am pleased that NHS England have agreed to address this within the funding they have available."

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said it was unacceptable that some people with dementia had to wait months for a diagnosis.

Image caption NHS England plans to reduce the wait for a dementia diagnosis

"Today's announcement is a positive step forward to increasing diagnosis rates and ensuring that no matter where you live you will receive a timely assessment.

"Too often we hear about a lack of suitable services available to people with dementia and their carers. We welcome the focus on post-diagnosis support which will provide a vital lifeline to thousands who are currently left in the dark, with nowhere to turn for advice or support."

Dementia envoy

The prime minister has appointed a "world dementia envoy" following agreement between the G8 countries at a dementia summit in London in December.

Dr Dennis Gillings, an expert in clinical trials, plans to create a World Dementia Council to raise funds for research towards a cure.

Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said: "Dementia is a costly and heartbreaking epidemic with an immense impact.

"I can think of no other condition that has such a profound effect on loss of function, loss of independence, and the need for care - care that is immensely challenging, physically, psychologically, and financially."

Liz Kendall, Labour's shadow minister for care and older people, said she supported the prime minister's commitment to dementia research, but warned that more needed to be done to help those struggling with dementia now.

She said: "£2.7bn has been cut from council care budgets under this government, hitting the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people with dementia and their families.

"The prime minister cannot credibly claim to show leadership on dementia unless he tackles poor care standards, like the increasing number of 15-minute home visits which are barely enough time to make a cup of tea, let alone help a frail, elderly person with dementia get up, washed, dressed and fed."

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