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John Bowis (United Kingdom)

MEPs speak out on dementia

John Bowis (United Kingdom) talks to Alzheimer Europe about the European Mental Health Pact (November 2008)

Alzheimer Europe (AE): Mr Bowis, you have closely followed the European discussions on the development of a European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being. Which of the proposed actions do you think are of particular interest to people with dementia and their carers?

John Bowis

John Bowis (JB): The most important achievement is to have a European Policy - or Pact - for Mental Health. It is on the EU health agenda, where some of us have been pressing for years it should be. The fact that the five specific areas of mental health to be taken forward are children and young people, stigma, suicide, people at work and older people means dementia is up there on the front page. It ties in with the work already under way in the EU research programme on neurodegenerative diseases.

Europe, as we know, does not have the power to lay down standards of provision by national health services; we use our position to find and share good practice. However mental health at work is an EU competence and so we can, for example, call for reports on what employers are doing both for employees who start to contract dementia or who are carers for a dementia patient at home. Likewise, where our new policy on Cross Border Health is concerned, people are beginning to realise we need to share standards and measurements for quality and safety and a great deal of work is now tackling this.

The other side of the coin is of course that we are looking not just at how we can improve policy and practice for people who have dementia but we are looking for ways of encouraging mental well-being and the prevention - or at least the slowing - of the onset of such diseases.

AE: How will the recommendations of the Pact be put into practice?

JB: The next steps are that the five key areas will each have a "take forward" group to discuss, debate and progress ideas for each. This may or may not lead to legislation; it may be left to Member States to take forward.

AE: In your opinion, which other actions are necessary to make dementia a European public health priority?

JB: My hope is that we will have at the very least a Council Recommendation and maybe a full blown Directive setting out where we expect action and the sort of targets to aim at, but leaving the detail to the discretion of each Member State. Alongside this, I do believe we can and should require by EU legislation that firms above a certain size should annually report on their mental health at work company policy. At the very least, this would concentrate their minds and, maybe, prompt them to initiate some imaginative ideas.

I have no doubt at all however that some Member State governments would rather we did not do anything of any consequence in this area. If you believe, as I do, that this would not be acceptable, then we need individuals and organisations such as Alzheimer Europe to press their governments and Ministers to look positively on this excellent first step on the way to a better future in Europe for the very large number of our fellow citizens, who have to live with mental health problems and increasingly have to face the prospect of the frailty of mind, that comes with longevity for so many of us.



Last Updated: Wednesday 14 October 2009