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14 January 2011: NIHR Dementia Research Conference

  • Last modified date:
    10 March 2011

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It was at the start of the last century that Alois Alzheimer first described the mystery of the disease now bearing his name.

In this century, as more and more people develop dementia, everyone wants answers. Can we prevent it? Can we cure it? How can we improve care and support?

This means turning our minds increasingly to research, to discovery and exploration, to the work many of you are leading to improve our knowledge and open up new possibilities for treatment and cure.

It’s hard to overplay the seriousness.

Before the election, before I got this job, I wrote a foreword for the Dementia 2010 report for the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.

It struck me that this report started to answer a simple and dramatic question.

How do you put a price on life?

And how do you demonstrate the cost of doing nothing?

From the economists working on that study, we got our answer.

£23 billion in care costs and lost productivity.

There are many more statistics out there.

- £8.2 billion spent caring for the three-quarters of a million people with dementia each year.
- A quarter of all patients in NHS hospitals have dementia.
- Fifty per cent of people in care homes have a form of dementia.
- 40 per cent of the work community matrons do is with people who have dementia.

All of these figures dramatise the effect dementia has on society and public services.

With experts predicting an explosion in numbers – a doubling by 2030 – the pressure will only intensify.

Now we can improve services through the Dementia Strategy.

But the only sustainable, long term answer to dementia is to tackle demand. The inexorable rise in demand for care.

And for me, that means investing in human ingenuity and discovery.

For years, people have said the amount going into dementia research doesn’t come close to matching the scale of the problem.

And me among them. I said it for years in opposition. I argued for a commitment in my party’s election manifesto. And I was delighted we agreed to prioritise dementia research in the Coalition Programme.

So a clear commitment. But one that’s a two-way deal, involving an increase in the quality and the quantity of research bids.

Now this is about infrastructure and capacity.

It’s about improving the appeal of dementia research, in particular by tackling stigma.

It’s about developing a clearer and better career structure for dementia research.

And, yes, it’s about investing in the right places at the right times, to maximise impact.

And I’m clear the Government’s got a big role to play. To stimulate interest. To steer progress – which we’re doing through the Ministerial Advisory Group I chair.

But it’s also fundamentally up to you to rise to the challenge and to answer this call.

And today’s event is really about bringing all of us together to think about how we do it.

We’ve got a clear strategy, a clear plan of action led by the Ministerial group.

Focused, as you’re seeing today, around five priority areas.

More clarity on priority topics for research – to help funding bodies to target their resources more effectively.

More public engagement. To fire people’s imaginations. To combat the stigma and myths. To build higher levels of public interest and commitment to dementia research.

And this includes the delicate challenge of getting more people to volunteer to donate tissue or organs for dementia research.

Third, greater collaboration. Becoming more than the sum of our parts. With stronger co-ordination and co-operation across disciplines and professions.

Better ties between the public and commercials sectors.

Less bureaucracy to foil and frustrate your work, something Michael Rawlins and others raised earlier this week.

I know the new systems for simplifying applications and permissions are already helping to cut red tape.

But as this report makes clear, there’s more to do.

Fourth, perhaps most important of all: ensuring good research translates into better treatments and care.

Research has to make a difference to patients. But it has to be allowed to make a difference.

It needs oxygen – the opportunities, the access to triallists to help bring research programmes to fruition.

And this means opening up the NHS and social care. Making it more receptive to innovation. Quicker at adopting new ideas. Easier for researchers to work with.

And hence the plans to link research activity more closely with care and treatment pathways. Something that should give the research community more opportunities to work with people with dementia.

Compared to other areas, the numbers with dementia taking part in research is low. We want to put that right.

And then there’s the fifth priority, taking us back to where we started: improving the flow of investment into dementia research.

Certainly, the money’s there. 

Overall government health research funding is increasing.

But the degree of investment in any area of research should always be determined by the quality of the science, not the preferences of politicians.

There are some great research teams already working in this area.

But we still need more high quality research proposals coming through.

That’s why I’m pleased we’ll be launching a new themed call on dementia research – to give dementia research the kick-start it needs.

The call will cover seven of the NIHR’s main funding programmes:

• Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation
• Health Services Research
• Health Technology Assessment
• Programme Grants for Applied Research
• Public Health Research
• Research for Patient Benefit)
• Service Delivery and Organisation

A comprehensive programme then, covering all areas of applied health science.

The call will be advertised formally after the Ministerial Group completes its work.

Though we’re announcing our intention today to give you more time to prepare winning bids.

And I hope this will inject a sense of pace and purpose into other work we’re doing.


So to sum up … there are some tremendous projects already going on.

Tantalising signs of some incredible breakthroughs on the horizon.

Our job is to build on this. The themed call will help. But it’s only ever going to be one part of the solution.

Success means the whole research community coming together – seeing the need, taking a lead, raising the volume? and the impact of dementia research.

Let’s make this conference a catalyst.

A hundred years on from Alois Alzheimer.

But there’s cause for real optimism.

A big opportunities lie ahead. Opportunities we can only grasp by working together. All of us pursuing a common aim and a shared strategy.

That’s what we’re putting in place. And that’s what I hope you’ll help us to shape and deliver in the years ahead.

So thank you again for your commitment and dedication, and I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.

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