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Only part of £6m fund to transform dementia care in Northern Ireland has been spent

By Cate McCurry

Concerns have been raised after it emerged that more than half of a £6.2m fund earmarked for dementia care in Northern Ireland has not been spent.

The funding formed part of Stormont's Delivering Social Change Programme and was financed through donations and the public purse in a bid to transform dementia services here.

The three-year pledge was due to finish this year; however the Department of Health confirmed to investigative website The Detail that it has been extended to March next year.

The Detail further revealed that despite the additional time more than £1m of the budget will not be spent.

Bernadine McCrory, operations director for the charity Alzheimer's Society in Northern Ireland, said there is a severe underinvestment in dementia care.

"The Alzheimer's Society would like to see a review of the dementia strategy before we would draw conclusions on how the budget was allocated," she said.

"However, there is currently severe underinvestment in dementia when compared to other serious health conditions like cancer and heart disease, so we would strongly urge the Department of Health to ensure this unspent budget is ring-fenced for further investment in dementia care, research, and awareness-raising."

In a joint statement issued by the Department of Health, the Health and Social Care Board, and all five health trusts, it said: "Although the total funding committed is less than what was projected at the outset of the project, the work streams have still managed to deliver all the objectives.

"Indeed there are areas where the project delivered over and above what was initially intended.

"In addition, savings were achieved where possible, eg monies received for the development of a web portal to support the Dementia Public Information Campaign were not required as NI Direct offered to develop, host and maintain the internet resource into the future at no cost."

The £6.2m investment announced in 2014 came three years after the publication of Northern Ireland's regional dementia strategy and was meant to finish in 2017.

However in response to a Freedom of Information request by the investigative website, the Department of Health confirmed that only £2.8m had been spent by the end of March. The department said it expects to spend a further £2.4m in 2017/2018 and this will be taken from the £6.2m budget.

It further reported that while it was waiting for the department to respond to queries over the budget, the Delivering Social Change section of the Executive Office's website was amended.

It now states the total amount invested into the dementia project was £5m instead of the £6.2m announced in 2014.

They claimed the department failed to explain the changes, which included information about a new dementia project expected to cost £7.3m.

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