Dementia Burden Could Bring Down NHS, Experts Warn

The rising cost of dementia care could make the NHS financially unsustainable, scientists warned today. In a letter to the health secretary, Alan Johnson, dementia experts said more funding was needed for research into the disease to devise better treatments and reduce care costs.

Dementia care currently costs the UK economy more than £17bn, and the figure is expected to double to £35bn within 20 years.

The number of people with dementia in the UK is expected to rise from 700,000 at present to 1.7m in the next 40 years, according to the London School of Economics.

The letter, signed by Professor 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.”

The letter went on: “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.”

Rebecca Wood, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said: “If under-investment 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 set to launch a consultation on a dementia care strategy tomorrow.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said the strategy was focused on “improving awareness, early diagnosis and intervention and improving the quality of care for people with dementia”.