Actor Barbara Windsor has urged Boris Johnson to make dementia care a priority. Here’s why the crisis affects all generations.
Barbara Windsor is a national treasure. Perhaps best-known for playing the inimitable Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders, the actor started her career at the age of 13 in The Belles of St Trinian’s and went on to star in the Carry On films and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
In 2014, Windsor was sadly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband Scott Mitchell made the announcement during an interview on This Morning, saying: “Firstly, I hope speaking out will help other families dealing with loved ones who have this cruel disease.”
He continued: “Secondly, I want the public to know because they are naturally very drawn to Barbara and she loves talking to them. So rather than me living in fear she might get confused or upset, they’ll know that if her behaviour seems strange, it’s due to Alzheimer’s and accept it for what it is.”
Now, the couple have penned an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to reform dementia care at this critical time. It comes after the news that they are now ambassadors for the UK’s leading dementia charity, Alzheimer’s Society.
They are calling for supporters to co-sign the letter, which reads:
“The system of support for people with dementia is unfair, unsustainable and needs an urgent overhaul. Alzheimer’s Society regularly hears from people who have spent all of their life savings on care.
“The NHS is committed to the principle of access based on clinical need, not an individual’s ability to pay, and it is time people with dementia were treated the same.
“Alzheimer’s Society is calling for a £2.4 billion Dementia Fund in the upcoming Spending Review to end the dementia penalty, bringing fairness into the system and improving quality of care. We need your help to do this.
“It’s time to start building a care system that works for everyone.”
Windsor added in a statement: “We’re lucky to have amazing support but my heart goes out to the many, many people who are really struggling to get the care they so desperately need. Please join us – let’s do everything we can to sort this out.”
Windsor’s campaign further highlights the fact that the dementia care crisis is something that affects us all.
It’s predicted that one million people in the UK will have dementia by 2021. And yet, Alzheimer’s Society says the system is in disarray, completely unprepared to support the growing numbers of people receiving a diagnosis.
The cost of dementia to the UK is currently £26 billion a year, which works out as an average annual cost of £32,250 per person with dementia. Two-thirds of this cost is currently being paid by people with dementia and their families, either in unpaid care (£11.6 billion) or in paying for private social care. This is in contrast to other conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, where the NHS provides care that is free at the point of use.
And it’s not just a financial issue. Anyone whose family has been affected by dementia will understand the heartache that the disease so often causes. This also means that other family members become carers, which is a constant emotional and physical strain.
As one Stylist writer recently described after caring for her father following his dementia diagnosis: “Though this period in my life left me battered and bruised, hollowed and harrowed, it also gave me a core sense of achievement, a rock solid base of, ‘Yeah, well I can handle pretty much anything life slings at me now’. Not that it always felt so calm. I felt wretched pains of guilt; could I have cared more, should I have cared differently?”