Stephen Tomkinson wants the government to keep its funding promise
Stephen, 55, known to millions from his starring roles in Ballykissangel and Wild at Heart, is the latest celebrity to sign a petition urging immediate action after this newspaper exposed the looming crisis.
He said: “Dad suffered for seven years and he was in a care home for the last three. He was at home on his own after we lost mum unexpectedly from pneumonia 11 years earlier.
“The family knew something was wrong and didn’t think he could stay at home. It was a horrible decision, but it was made for his own good.”
Brian, a Captain in the Territorial Army and fine cricketer, worked his way up from a humble bank clerk to manager of Yorkshire Bank’s Preston branch.
In a cruel irony, he arranged the loan for the construction of Westholme Care Home in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, where he later became a resident and died in 2015 aged 82.
Stephen said: “It’s horrible because you are dealing with a disease and not the person. You never get to say goodbye properly and it strips away personality and memories.
A dementia patient is tested on her cognitive abilities
“At the end, Dad didn’t recognise anyone. The only thing that gave comfort to him was holding someone’s hand. It was a beautiful gesture but for many that is not possible at the moment.
“We started noticing things like he couldn’t complete crosswords and the cricket scores didn’t add up – it was a steady progression where he just started to lose his memory.
“Sometimes he felt fine and didn’t understand why there was a concern, but on other days my brother and I and the rest of the family knew something was very badly wrong.
“It’s just horrible – like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers – where you are left with this shell of a person who still responds, but not in the way they used to.”
In November 2019 – three weeks before the General Election – Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised to double the amount of taxpayer cash ploughed into dementia research in the hope of finding a cure.
He said that if the Tories won the poll the UK would spend a total of £1.6billion over the next decade – equal to an extra £83million a year.
But his pledge – revealed in an exclusive interview with the Daily Express – has yet to be honoured, sparking anger from charities, campaigners, and families of those struggling to cope.
There are now 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK but the onslaught has been described as one of the greatest health crises of our time.
One in three born this year will develop the incurable disease in their lifetime.
And by 2050 the number struck down will have topped 2 million.
Stephen said: “The stats don’t lie. This is going to be our biggest long-term problem because we are all living longer. I am no one special, and my story isn’t out of the ordinary, but what I and thousands of Alzheimer’s Research UK supporters are now saying is enough is enough.
“A promise is supposed to mean something and you should be accountable, or at least explain why there is a delay. But at the moment the silence is unforgivable and everyone should be shouting about this.”
Britain’s dementia crisis has been magnified by Covid.
Seven in ten care home residents have the disease and for many their conditions have worsened because they have been denied close family contact throughout the pandemic.
Some 34,000 with the incurable illness are thought to have died from the virus, while deaths of care home residents are 30 percent higher than previously thought.
The total is nearly 12,000 since January alone.
Hilary Evans, the chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It’s been well over a year since the Government pledged to boost dementia research, but with no real indication this funding is being delivered, it’s time for this promise to be backed with clear action.
“While it’s right the response to the pandemic has had to take priority, dementia is our greatest long-term health crisis and the lives of people affected by dementia are being torn apart by Covid. The search for life-changing dementia treatments has never been more critical.”
The Department for Health and Social Care said: “We are committed to significantly increasing research funding to improve detection and care for people living with all kinds of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
“As part of our 2020 Challenge on Dementia, the Government has already spent £344million on dementia research in the past five years. We are currently working across government and with the sector on ways to significantly boost further research into dementia.”
• To sign the petition click here.