With the end of the month set as our date to exit the European Union, and with plenty of uncertainty remaining regarding the conditions of our withdrawal, there is a lot of speculation about the impact that this decision will have on dementia, in terms of both care and research.
As of 2017, dementia was the leading cause of death in the UK (Alzheimer’s Research UK); 1 in 3 individuals will develop dementia in their lifetime, and 1 in 4 NHS hospital beds are occupied by a dementia patient, putting increasing demands on the care system to provide adequate care. There are currently over 500,000 individuals diagnosed with dementia, and this number is only set to rise over time.
Maintaining care and support for dementia sufferers is crucial, however with the large number of non-UK nationals working in the care sector additional considerations will be needed to continue to meet care demands. Current estimates suggest that around 60,000 UK care sector workers may be affected by Brexit; since the 2016 referendum, there has already been a significant decrease in the number of EU applicants for UK care jobs, largely due to uncertainty about the future of free movement and long term employment prospects in the UK. Some estimates are predicting a shortfall of over 300,000 social care workers by 2026, which will have a staggering impact on the care sector. There are currently over 100,000 unfilled care jobs in the UK, and 30% of staff leave every year (Age UK). With the current annual cost of dementia at £26 billion and rising, it is essential that provisions are made to continue this vital work. It is therefore vital that the government examine and reform care support, to better incentivise workers into roles which are often viewed as highly demanding and underpaid.
Scientific research into dementia, including the causes and potential new treatments, is also set to be hit by increasing financial pressures as a result of Brexit. The UK has been one of the largest beneficiaries of EU research funding, with a total of £7.7 billion received in grants between 2007-2013, however withdrawing from the EU means we are also withdrawing from access to this funding support. Dementia research is historically underfunded in comparison to other disease research, with one seventh the number of active researchers compared to cancer research (Alzheimer’s Society). Loss of funding will likely have a further impact on this disparity and worries about free travel may also result in a loss of EU researchers. Currently over 25% of academic staff in UK universities are non-UK nationals, so Brexit will likely impact the retention of current staff as well as future recruitment of the skilled and knowledgeable researchers which have made UK research so successful. Future frameworks for our relationship with Europe must foster and support continued international collaborations and data sharing, to ensure the UK remains in a strong position to lead international research projects, such as clinical trials, which can allow for earlier access to potential therapeutics. Brexit could also impact the licensing of new dementia treatments and cause delays in their availability to UK patients.
With Age UK and other organisations heavily campaigning, it is hoped that dementia will remain high on the list of priorities for the government, who need to carefully consider the implications of Brexit and the potential reduction in worker numbers. Ultimately, it is a time of great uncertainty for both the care and research sectors. We must continue to bring attention to the need for clear provision of information to support staff to remain in the UK, to maintain staff levels and the quality of care which we provide.
Meadowcare and Glenview homes are committed to continuing to provide the best person-centred care for our residents and will support our staff through any challenges which this transitional period may bring.