The purpose of our “In my shoes” series, and indeed the whole Whose Shoes?® concept, is to provide a diverse mix of viewpoints in order to encourage real conversations about things that really matter. The blog series gives people a platform to share good practice or talk about things that delight, concern or intrigue them. Here a delegate from the recent Dementia Congress asks some interesting questions about important dementia policy issues…
Dear Norman – dementia strategy in wonderland or RIP?
Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care and Support didn’t mention the national dementia strategy in his recent speech to the Dementia Congress. He talked plenty about the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia and the Department of Health’s role in delivering on that challenge. He also made three references to the good work of the Alzheimer’s Society although one reference incorrectly attributed the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Dementia Without Walls programme to the Society. He made no reference to the Dementia Action Alliance (DAA). So it left me wondering, what is current Government policy on dementia?
The Minister’s speech followed four powerful and moving contributions from people living with dementia and family carers. It’s certainly not easy following on after speeches describing people’s lived experience but it can help if you are announcing something exciting and new that could improve people’s lives. Unless I missed something Norman Lamb didn’t make such an announcement. He did remind us that the NHS Mandate, published this year, sets out the Government priorities for the NHS, giving them leverage about how the NHS treats people with dementia. But given that the Government created the NHS over 60 years ago one kind of assumes that those sorts of powers already exist or if they don’t, wonder why they don’t or what happened to them.
But it was the implicit public policy about dementia that intrigued me. Conservative-led governments don’t usually favour national strategies in health and social care, preferring a more reactive policy approach to issues as they arise. So there was some relief in 2010 when the new Government announced that dementia remained a priority and the dementia strategy for England, produced by the previous Government (Labour was a great proponent of national strategies) was still in place. The strategy wasn’t perfect by any means but it did represent a fairly co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to dementia. However it feels like it has increasingly faded from public view, with only a small number of its objectives retained under the PM’s dementia challenge. Housing, peer support, and end of life care all had specific objectives in the strategy but it’s hard to know what the status of those objectives is now. Maybe they have been subsumed into the PM’s Challenge along with other objectives but it’s not clear because these days the strategy only seems present in Government announcements by virtue of its omission. Or perhaps the strategy is a bit like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland – a face without a body.
And why was there no mention of the Dementia Action Alliance? The Department of Health is a member of the DAA and it is an impressive cross-sector, cross-organisational collaboration that has played an important role in delivering policy objectives for dementia. But if the role of the DAA and those objectives are somewhat unclear it makes the work of the DAA a lot harder. Perhaps the attention given in the Minster’s speech to the Department of Health and the Alzheimer’s Society signifies that he believes public policy can be largely delivered through the work of those two organisations? If it can, that really is news to me.