Political turmoil has largely characterised the social care scene in 2016, resulting in a continuously changing political landscape and social care agenda. Whilst it is fair to suggest that the sector is currently at the tipping point of a funding crisis, the year has seen some positive progression, particularly in dementia care.
As a promising sign for 2017, the quality of social care being delivered in care homes across England over the past year has significantly improved. Nearly three quarters of care homes originally rated as inadequate have improved their ratings, according to the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the independent regulator of all health and social care services in England. This is a flagship example of the dedication and commitment shown by care staff, providers, funders, commissioners and regulators in striving to achieve quality care with the resources available.
Dementia care this year has also advanced significantly, with additional funding, large donations from organisations, research breakthroughs and improvement to the overall quality and range of dementia care available. September welcomed the announcement of a £186m investment that will see funding for dementia rise to more than £45m from April 2017 onwards.
The investment will help to maintain the UK's position as a leader in medical research and will provide a great deal of promise for the future of dementia care and treatment. The Alzheimer's Society, Alzheimer's Research UK and the Medical Research Council partnered up in May to pledge a £50m investment for the establishment of the UK's first dedicated Dementia Research Institute. It has also received government backing, with £150m pledge of investment. Once up and running in 2020, the institute will research further into diagnosis, treatment, care and initial prevention of dementia.
With regards to the research itself, 2016 has been a year of real progress. In August, the Medical Research Council and National Institute for Health Research announced research trials focused on finding early ways of detecting the condition. Spotting the early signs of dementia is an essential aspect of discovering effective treatments and allows people to enter research trials before their condition is too advanced. The results of an experimental research study trialled by the University of Manchester also indicated a possibility that Alzheimer's disease could be treated with a commonly used anti-inflammatory drug. The study found that the anti-inflammatory drug, Mefenamic acid, reversed brain inflammation and therefore memory loss in mice. Whilst more research will be required to understand the long-term implications of its use, the study provides yet another promising indication for the future prospects of dementia care.
Several reports have been published that also indicate that the proportion of people living with dementia has fallen in the UK, paralleling with similar reports in America and across Europe. The findings are believed to be a result of an increasing trend in better health, access to education, improved medical care and a developing non-smoking culture. With a better understanding of the factors that underlie this general trend, it is hoped that the knowledge can be translated into intervention, which will reduce the likelihood of an individual having dementia going forward.
In addition to this, the year also saw the rise of dementia-only care homes, enabling providers to create a specially-designed environment for those living with the condition. These homes can cost anything from between £2,000 - £3,000 a week for residents, and millions of pounds to build.
While the crisis in funding dominates the social care sector and will no doubt continue to be a pressing issue in 2017, 2016 has seen some positive and promising steps in dementia care, and we really do commend all in the health and social care sector - from researchers, universities and medical institutes, to all the care home and home care providers, care workers, for their continued hard work.