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Top scientists warn of dementia threat to NHS

JUNE 18, 2008

In an open letter to the Health Secretary Alan Johnson, a coalition of leading scientists including Professor Simon Lovestone, Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, based at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's, slated the governmen'ts underinvestment into dementia research.  The main message heralding a warning of dire economic consequences if this under-funding goes un addressed.

This follows a series of parliamentary questions whereby the government admitted that less than 3% of the Department of Health’s R&D budget is spent on dementia research.  Dementia care currently costs the economy more than £17 billion, and will hit £35 billion within 20 years.

In the letter, published in the Times, Prof Simon Lovestone of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London and 10 other dementia experts said:

“As the NHS turns 60, the question isn’t whether it will last a further 60 years, but if it can survive the next 20. Funding for dementia research is pitifully low, while care costs are at an all-time high. With the prevalence of dementia expected to double within a generation, the health service as we know it may well be unsustainable. A quarter of the Department of Health’s research budget is spent on cancer research, compared with just 3% invested in finding new ways of preventing or treating dementia. We urgently need to encourage national dementia research strategies to resolve this. The government must greatly increase dementia research funding now, or the NHS won’t survive the next 20 years.”

The UK’s leading dementia research charity, the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, warned of an impending “dementia crisis”.  The charity’s Chief Executive Rebecca Wood said:

“Care costs for dementia are much higher than those for cancer. Yet a quarter of the Department of Health’s R&D budget is spent on cancer research, compared with just 3% on dementia. If underinvestment persists, the economic consequences arising from dementia care costs will be catastrophic. The government must reassert its commitment to social justice and financial prudence by proportionately funding dementia research.”

The government is currently working on a National Dementia Strategy, which addresses three themes: raising awareness, early diagnosis and intervention and improving the quality of care. There is not yet a government-backed dementia research strategy.

The letter was signed by:

Prof Simon Lovestone, Chair, Scientific Advisory Board, Alzheimer’s Research Trust, and King’s College, London

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive, Alzheimer’s Research Trust

Prof Nick Fox, Institute of Neurology , University College London

Prof Seth Love, University of Bristol

Prof Gordon Wilcock, University of Oxford

Prof Roy Weller, Southampton University

Prof Julie Williams, Cardiff University

Prof Richard Morris, University of Edinburgh

Prof John Mayer, Nottingham University

Prof Lawrence Whalley, University of Aberdeen

Dr Frank Gunn-Moore, University of St Andrews

Dr Calum Sutherland, University of Dundee
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