'You can't teach people compassion': PM hits back as Strictly's Arlene Phillips says nurses ignored dementia patients
David Cameron says funding for research into dementia is to be doubled by 2015
One in three over-65s struck down by conditionBonus payments will be made to GPs who diagnose and refer patients

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UPDATED:

23:24 GMT, 26 March 2012

David Cameron was yesterday forced to admit that NHS nurses lack compassion after being confronted by former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips.

The 68-year-old told the Prime Minister how she had witnessed nurses walking past dementia patients ‘as if they didn’t exist’ when visiting her mother-in-law in hospital over Christmas.

And she revealed how the 84-year-old, who does not suffer from dementia, had been kept on the same ward in Hereford Hospital as several Alzheimer’s patients, many of whom were ‘repeatedly calling out for nurses’.

Pledge: Prime Minister David Cameron announces his funding plans at the the Alzheimer's Society in London today

Arlene Phillips was in the audience to hear Mr Cameron speak. She said she had witnessed poor treatment of dementia patients

Pledge: Prime Minister David Cameron announces his funding plans at the the Alzheimer's Society in London today and was quizzed by Arlene Phillips, right

Mrs Phillips, a supporter of the
Alzheimer’s Society, who has spoken movingly in the past about her
father’s battle with dementia, claimed ‘every nurse in that ward walked
up and down as if they didn’t exist’.

Confronting Mr Cameron during a
question and answer session at a conference in London yesterday, she
asked: ‘How will you train nurses to care’

Vital intervention: John Stevenson, pictured with wife Mary, said that early diagnosis for Alzheimer's gave him many extra years of active life

Vital intervention: John Stevenson, pictured with wife Mary, said that early diagnosis for Alzheimer's gave him many extra years of active life

The Tory leader was then forced to admit lack of compassion in the NHS was ‘the biggest problem we have’.

He added: ‘Some hospitals do a
fantastic job and the level of care and attention from nurses is
absolutely first class, but frankly in some of our hospitals it is not
good enough.

‘You are right, you cannot teach
people compassion – that has to be the vocation that leads you into
nursing. But I think if you look at the best hospitals and compare them
with the rest there are some things they are doing, often quite simple
things, that can be copied.’

Mrs Phillips’s intervention came
after the Prime Minister delivered a key note speech into how the
Government intends to tackle the ‘national crisis’ in care.

He pledged to double the research
budget for dementia to 66million a year by 2015 and also announced
plans for all over-75s to be screened for dementia when they are
admitted to hospital.

Mr Cameron said: ‘Dementia is a
terrible disease. It is a scandal we haven’t kept pace with it.

'The
level of diagnosis, understanding and awareness of dementia is
shockingly low. It is as though we’ve been in collective denial.

Mr Cameron and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley have a meeting with Alzheimer's Society members before the Prime Minister's speech

Mr Cameron and Health Secretary Andrew Lansley have a meeting with Alzheimer's Society members before the Prime Minister's speech

‘We need an all-out fight-back
against this disease; one that cuts across society. We did it with
cancer in the 70s, with HIV in the 80s and 90s. We fought the stigma,
stepped up to the challenge and made massive in-roads into fighting
these killers.

‘Now we’ve got to do the same with
dementia. This is a personal priority of mine, and it’s got an ambition
to match. Nothing less than for Britain to be a world leader in dementia
research and care.’

Mrs Phillips has previously spoken of
her guilt at not being able to do enough for her late father Abraham
who succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease.

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In the 12 years leading up to his
death in 2000, she revealed how she juggled caring for him, bringing up
her two children and trying to keep her career going.

She has said: ‘I look back now and
feel guilty that I didn’t do more. I think I could have tried to have a
room for him in my house, or arranged nursing for him.’

Mrs Phillips’s comments came as figures from the Alzheimer’s Society revealed there are 800,000 dementia sufferers in the UK.

The Stevensons: Case study

Its report found that two-thirds of
sufferers admitted being lonely, with half saying they had lost friends
since their diagnosis.

One admitted he had been admonished by a barman at his local pub for repeating himself.

A poll of 300 dementia patients
carried out by the charity also found nearly half felt they were a
burden to their family while another four in five felt depressed.

Previously the charity had estimated there were 750,000 dementia sufferers in Britain, with around 60 per cent undiagnosed.

Nearly two-thirds of dementia sufferers undiagnosed