England’s dementia strategy gets director

A psychiatry professor has been appointed to oversee how dementia is dealt with in England. Professor Alistair Burns will lead a strategy launched one year ago by then health secretary Alan Johnson.

His job is to promote better care of people with dementia within the NHS and social care communities in England.

The number of people diagnosed with the condition in the UK is expected to rise to one million within a decade due to an ageing population.

Although the elderly are primary victims of the disease – about a third of people over 65 die with a form of it – it also affects about 15,000 people under the age of 65.

Prof Burns said: “In the past few years, there has been a great deal of public interest in dementia and several influential initiatives, in particular the national dementia strategy.

‘Unique understanding’

“The challenge now is to build on this to make a real positive difference to people with dementia, their families and carers. I very much look forward to working with colleagues to realise this ambition.”

Announcing the appointment, Care Services Minister Phil Hope said Prof Burns’ experience gave him a “unique understanding of what works for people with the condition and their carers”.

Prof Burns is currently professor of old age psychiatry at the University of Manchester and Manchester Academic Health Science Centre.

He developed the South Manchester Memory Clinic, which provides specialist assessment and diagnosis for people with memory problems, and also helped establish a drug treatment clinic.

Plans for the national strategy include improving early diagnosis and better patient and carer support.

Ruth Sutherland, chief operating officer for the Alzheimer’s Society, said the society was “delighted” by the appointment.

The National Audit Office (NAO) recently criticised services in England for not getting the priority they were promised.

Its report described the strategy as “comprehensive and ambitious” but said that achieving the planned “transformation” would be very challenging.

There are about 700,000 people diagnosed with the condition in the UK and dementia is estimated to cost the economy £17bn a year.