It's the diagnosis and research stupid, but don't forget about care

drugs

Anyone linked to the UK government would prefer you not to talk about the crisis in social care. This gets in the way of shimmering spin about current dementia press releases.

But we know that the patient experience of people with dementia and carers is often destroyed by delayed discharges. If your train is late, it’s inappropriate for you to be labelled ‘a platform blocker’. This government, like the previous one, is failing to get on top of this problem.

If you’d believe the grass is greener on the dementia diagnosis front you’d be wrong. People languishing without a formal diagnosis is not right. But if we want high quality prompt diagnoses we should be able to pay for them.

Jeremy Hunt mysteriously views dementia as the ‘jewel in his crown’, but in fact there is a shared ethos between the NHS and English dementia strategy. That is, a stench of the ‘something for nothing’ culture – like paying #juniordoctors to stretch their work to seven days for the same money.

The Dementia Discovery Fund, launched today at the Alzheimer’s Research UK conference in Manchester by Jane Ellison MP, will pay for the development of new drugs for dementia. The announcement is seek to confirm that some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have joined forces to seek new treatments for a group of brain diseases affecting 850,000 people in the UK.

They include Biogen, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson and Johnson, Lilly, Pfizer and Takeda. The giant firms have signed up with Alzheimer’s Research UK to form a ground-breaking public-private partnership.

This is highly reminiscent of the approach which was taken for the development of drugs for HIV. Some time ago, ater spending a few years laying a foundation to streamline clinical testing and drug development, leaders from the US Food and Drug Administration body (“FDA”) took their Critical Path Initiative (CPI) from concept to implementation.

There remained public concerns about drug safety, dangerous imports, and rising pharmaceutical costs, much like today here in the UK for dementia. But here the UK taxpayer is in effect helping to underwrite drug development costs for these blockbuster revenue companies. Whilst political leaders use the limp mantra ‘you shouldn’t have to choose between cure and care’, in effect the choice has been made. Care is on its knees.

The famous political saying from Carville is of course ‘it’s the economy stupid, but don’t forget about healthcare.’ With the current Government’s growing economy, there is little joy from the people who can deliver potentially high quality professional care – nurses and doctors – who are unanimously demoralised and destroyed by Jeremy Hunt and his colleagues, wherever they may be.

The shambolic state of the English dementia policy could not have been made clearer by the lack of discussion of care pathways and clinical specialist nurses in dementia. What resulted was a underwhelming appalling document known as the ‘Implementation Plan’ for Dementia 2020 from the Department of Health.

The fluffy ‘health MOTs’ for people in their 40s is not evidence based at all. It is the pipedream of a non-clinical policy wonk, wishing to ensnare the ‘worried well’ into the lare of the private insurance industry, as I describe here. Nobody is of course objecting to true professional health promotion, but there are limitations to promoting ‘brain health’ – in the same ways to improve a healthy leg has limitations for you dealing with a dislocated hip or fractured neck of femur.

The relative lack of substantial professional clinical input really shone through in many areas, such as the lack of discussion of co-morbidities. Many of the ideas are gimmicks which have been recycled ad infinitum in various guises. The aim had been to assess ‘the lessons learnt’ from the only ever English dementia strategy, “Living well with dementia”, in 2009, but clearly the Department of Health cannot even been bothered to do that, not wishing perhaps to scrutinise the appalling state of social care or the high number of inappropriate referrals to memory clinic.

Or maybe the Department of Health do not want to discuss why primary care is not well placed to deliver on dementia diagnosis, when that arm of the profession is suffering a recruitment crisis, overwhelmed by bureaucracy and regulation, and is relatively grossly underfunded.

If the rest of English dementia policy were in a fit state, then a Drug Discovery Fund would be something to shout about. But the fact that there were 101 spectacular failures in drug development for dementia between 1998 and 2012 is also a fact.

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