Top scientists say ‘NHS won’t survive next 20 years’
Press release issued: 18 June 2008
In an open letter to the Health Secretary Alan Johnson, a coalition of leading scientists, including Professor Seth Love at Bristol University, slammed the government’s underinvestment in dementia research amid warnings of “catastrophic” economic consequences.
This follows a series of parliamentary questions whereby the government admitted that less than 3 per cent of the Department of Health’s Research and Development (R&D) budget is spent on dementia research.
Dementia care currently costs the UK economy more than £17 billion, and will hit £35 billion within 20 years.
In the letter published in The Times yesterday [Tuesday 17 June], Professor Simon Lovestone of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London and ten 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 per cent 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.”
Seth Love, Professor of Neuropathology, added: “There is a pressing need to improve the treatment of patients who have dementia. The number of people affected in the UK is 700,000 and growing, the cost to the economy is £17 billlion per annum and increasing each year, and the social implications and challenges for healthcare delivery are enormous.
“Unfortunately, the scope for improving treatment is still severely constrained by the very limited understanding we have as to how and why illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease actually cause dementia. In this context, and given the huge scale of the problem, it is depressing to note the paucity of investment in research into the mechanisms underlying the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.”
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 per cent 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.”
Further information* 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.
* One quarter of the Department of Health's £700 million research budget is spent on cancer, compared with 3 per cent going on research into preventions or cures for dementia (source: Parliamentary Questions 206520, HL3124 and 184620).
* In 2005-06 the Department of Health spent £18 million on dementia research -- the country's largest source of dementia research funding -- and the Medical Research Council invested £6 million. In the same year, the Department of Health spent £168 million on cancer research.
* Dementia costs the UK economy £17 billion per year (source: Dementia UK report, Feb 2007). This annual cost will rise to £34.8 billion by 2026 (source: King's Fund ‘Paying the Price’ report, Jun 2008).
* The letter was signed by: Professor Simon Lovestone, Chair, Scientific Advisory Board, Alzheimer’sResearch Trust, and King's College, London
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive, Alzheimer’s Research Trust
Professor Nick Fox, Institute of Neurology, University College, London
Professor Seth Love, University of Bristol
Professor Gordon Wilcock, University of Oxford
Professor Roy Weller, Southampton University
Professor Julie Williams, Cardiff University
Professor Richard Morris, University of Edinburgh
Professor John Mayer, Nottingham University
Professor Lawrence Whalley, University of Aberdeen
Dr Frank Gunn-Moore, University of St Andrews
Dr Calum Sutherland, University of Dundee
* The Alzheimer’s Research Trust provides free information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias: phone 01223 843899 or visit www.alzheimers-research.org.uk. The charity is the UK’s leading research charity for dementia and relies solely on public donations to fund its research.
* Earlier this year, Terry Pratchett donated $1 million (£500,000) to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.
* More than 100 MPs have signed a cross-party House of Commons motion (EDM 1337) calling for an increase in dementia research funding.