A just-released report from Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) includes the sad and concerning indictment that only 20 per cent of WHO nations have followed through on promises made in 2017 to establish a dementia action plan.
The tricky part is describing where, exactly, New Zealand fits in that picture. When, several months ago, we wrote the ‘New Zealand section’ for the ADI Plan to Impact report that was released on May 25 we described our progress towards the Dementia Mate Wareware Action Plan as ‘stalled’.
We said then that the current government had committed to supporting the Plan and the responsible Minister, Hon Ayesha Verrall, was still supporting it. But that we weren’t aware of any further concrete progress towards the Plan’s implementation.
Since then, we have heard Cabinet has officially ‘endorsed’ the Plan, which, of course, is very welcome news, and we have had Budget 2022 in which the Dementia Mate Wareware Action Plan received some acknowledgement and some very limited funding.
The funding will support ‘four post-diagnostic support trials, which include a six-session programme for all newly diagnosed people with dementia.’ It also provides some funding ‘to deliver respite care to enable family and whānau carers to continue caring for their whānau members.’
And it prioritises Māori, Pasifika and rural communities, and those diagnosed with young onset dementia – all groups that desperately need better support.
These are all areas the sector has told Government should be priority areas so it’s pleasing to see acknowledgment of that in the Budget.
We are also pleased to see the establishment of a sector ‘leadership group’ that, hopefully, will provide for further direct and positive action that will, in turn, formalise the Plan and get its implementation underway. We are hopeful, but the devil will be in the detail.
And that’s why it’s still tricky when describing our response to the Government’s action so far.
On one hand we are delighted Minister Verrall succeeded in getting some acknowledgment of the Plan across the line with her Cabinet colleagues. She has done what none of her predecessors has and I’m guessing there would have been some robust conversations around the Cabinet table.
But … what was announced in the Budget is nowhere near enough to address the rapidly growing problem – and the health inequities – posed by our aging population and the sharply increasing prevalence of dementia.
Nor does it tackle the significant funding shortfall faced by dementia and alzheimer’s organisations that really do face a financial tipping point in terms of their ability to continue to provide the much-needed community support services.
So, if we were to mark this Government’s report card, we’d have to say ‘thank you, Minister, but Government still has more to do’. There is room for improvement. Lots of it.
And we hope we can continue to work in partnership with Minister Verrall and her Cabinet colleagues to make rapid progress on the ‘more to do’ aspects of fully implementing the Dementia Mate Wareware Action Plan for New Zealand.