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King's Professor leads dementia strategy

AUGUST 08, 2007

Professor Sube Banerjee, Head of Mental Health and Ageing at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's, is to lead the first ever national strategy to tackle dementia. The Department of Health initiative, which was announced on 6 August, will focus on three key areas: disease awareness, early diagnosis and high quality treatment.

Professor Banerjee says: ‘Dementia is one of the largest and most important public health and social care challenges that we face. We need to act now to develop services.'

The National Dementia Strategy group aims to improve the poor rate of diagnosis of one of the fastest growing illnesses in Britain. There is no test for dementia and doctors are not trained to recognise the symptoms. It will also examine the available drug therapies, setting out new rules on treatments to drive up standards of care. Although there is no cure for dementia, a range of drugs can slow the progress of the disease. In addition, the strategy will address the important issue of stigma.

Professor Banerjee, who also holds a joint clinical appointment with the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, adds: ‘One of the major obstacles is public attitudes to dementia, which stops people from seeking help. There is also a problem of professional stigma, where healthcare professionals are reluctant to diagnose the condition. So it's extremely important that this programme tries to change public and professional attitudes and understanding.'

Broad collaboration
The strategy group is a 12 month collaboration between the health and social care sectors. Professor Banerjee will be joined by Jenny Owen, Executive Director of Adults, Health and Wellbeing in Essex, in leading the initiative. They will work with a stakeholder group, lead by Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer's Society, and including Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Approximately 600,000 people in England have dementia. The figure is set to double in the next 30 years, with predictions of more than a million people with dementia by 2025. Caring for people with the disease costs the NHS and social care services at least £3.3 billion a year.

Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis comments: ‘The scale of our ambition must now meet the scale of the challenge as demographic realities mean dementia will impact on an increasing number of families in our society. The current system is failing too many dementia sufferers and their carers.

‘I am determined that this disease is brought out of the shadows. We need to minimise the shame and fear associated with dementia so that people and their relatives feel able to seek support at the earliest possible stage in the knowledge they will get expert help and be treated with dignity and respect.' 
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