• NHS funding should be filtered through personal health budgets to improve dementia care, says former NHS science adviser
  • Adds £2.4bn needed to meet the ‘dementia penalty’ that sees dementia patients pay over the odds for care
  • Charity says it would help reduce admissions, readmissions, and delays to transfer of care

A multibillion-pound dementia fund should be used to fund personal health budgets for dementia patients to address care inequalities, a former NHS science adviser has said. 

Fiona Carragher, chief policy and research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society and ex-NHS England deputy scientific officer, told HSJ  that a proposed fund for dementia patients would also help reduce avoidable accident and emergency admissions.

The Alzheimer’s Society has published a report calling on the government to set aside £2.4bn of the £3.5bn earmarked late last year for primary and community care to allow people diagnosed with dementia to develop care plans with multidisciplinary teams, including their GP and a dementia adviser.

They could then pay for that care using the dementia fund through a personal health budget.

The report said this would also reduce the number of people hit by a “dementia penalty”, which leads to dementia patients later in their disease progression paying on average 15 per cent more than other patients using social care. 

“People with dementia deserve free NHS care just the same as someone [who] has cancer or cardiovascular disease,” Ms Carragher told HSJ.

“There’s a real inequality and injustice to people who have dementia and their ability to access the care that they need,” she added. “What we’re suggesting here through the dedicated dementia fund is giving [patients] the support and wrap-around, in a personalised way, right from the moment of [their] diagnosis.”

Ms Carragher believes this would lead to interventions that would “support decreasing the number of falls or [improve] early recognition of dehydration which leads to urinary tract infection – all of which are significant reasons why people with dementia end up in A&E and being admitted to hospital”.

It could also help reduce the variation between different areas in the rate at which people are diagnosed with dementia, she added.

Approximately two-thirds of the people estimated to have dementia are being diagnosed by doctors in England. But this hides variation around the country with diagnosis rates varying from nearly 50 per cent to over 80 per cent.

The Alzheimer’s Society said some clinicians can be reticent to diagnose people with dementia because there is little post-diagnostic support and treatment. Ms Carragher believes the fund would provide reassurance that the support would be there following diagnosis.

The proposed fund was supported by an open letter to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, signed by more than 60 MPs from across the house. It said: “The NHS is committed to the principle of access based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay, and people with dementia deserve the same.”

In response to the report, an NHS England spokesman said: “There has been major progress on diagnosing dementia over the past few years – exceeding the goal set for the NHS.

“The NHS long-term plan prioritises further improvements in dementia care, with GPs being given additional support to spot the tell-tale signs of dementia and provide additional help tailored to their patient’s needs.”

Update: this article was changed at 19:27 on 9 May to clarify Ms Carragher’s title.