Calls for £1m underspend in Northern Ireland dementia strategy not to be diverted from sufferers
Relatives whose loved ones are living with dementia have appealed to Stormont's health officials to continue to fund innovative projects they say have improved their lives.
As The Detail previously revealed, around £1m of a £6.25m funding package originally earmarked for dementia care will not be spent at the end of the three-year project.
However, despite this officials still plan to wind down a body set up in 2014 to implement the key aims of Northern Ireland's first dementia strategy.
In a further development The Detail can also reveal that government is expected to return a portion of the funding given to Stormont by a philanthropic organisation to support dementia care here.
Barry Smyth of the Alzheimer's Society said: "We strongly urge the Department of Health and the Executive (Office) to reconsider and to commit money originally allocated to dementia to be invested in a strategic way that benefits those affected by the condition now and in the future."
Dementia Together NI was established to deliver Stormont's dementia programme. It was tasked with raising awareness of dementia; improving access to information for people with the illness; delivering training to health professionals, and supporting carers.
The Department of Health confirmed Dementia Together NI, which was meant to finish this year, will be abolished in March.
It told The Detail the overall project was "time limited".
However, those working with people who have dementia say they hoped the work would continue.
The Detail asked the department why the £1m underspend could not be used to continue to fund dementia services.
It said the underspend was due to savings, as well as projects coming in at a lower cost than expected.
It added: "The unallocated monies from the Department of Health and the Executive Office will be used on other departmental priorities."
The Department of Health confirmed this refers to the funding being spent on services other than dementia.
Meanwhile, documents obtained by The Detail also suggest that officials planned to see that dementia projects developed as a result of the philanthropic investment would be funded into the future by the Health and Social Care Board.
Now leading dementia charities have urged government to use the philanthropic funding in full and help sustain dementia services into the future.
Mr Smyth has also called for a full evaluation of the 2011 dementia strategy.
He said there was severe under-investment in dementia compared to other health conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
"The fact that Dementia Together NI is drawing to a close must not allow the focus on dementia to drift," he added.
"The 20,000 people in Northern Ireland living with dementia have the right to diagnosis, support and information, wherever they live."
It has also emerged that Stormont officials expect to return some of the funds donated to the project by Atlantic Philanthropies, although the exact amount will not be known until the end of the financial year.
Atlantic Philanthropies is a US-based organisation that has donated money to support public interest projects around the world, including extensive investment in healthcare.
It committed to make up 40% - or around £22.5m - of the total £58m invested into Stormont's Delivering Social Change programme, which was also financed by government funding, and allocated £6.25m to dementia policies.
Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a range of symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, and difficulties with speech and understanding.
Tara Collins is a programme manager with Dementia NI, which supports people with the illness.
She said: "Our members feel to date that the work done has only scratched the surface and there are still many gaps that need to be addressed. We are thankful for this project and will be disappointed when it comes to an end.
"We also wonder why all the money that was originally planned to be invested into dementia services through this project is not being spent on dementia.
"Why is this £1m underspend going towards other services when it was meant to be spent on dementia? It's disappointing this money is not being used to extend the life of the dementia programme."
In May last year former Health Minister Simon Hamilton announced that "Dementia Together NI will continue". However, the Department of Health told The Detail the purpose of this Press release was to confirm funding had been made available in that financial year.