Good morning, everyone.
It’s a pleasure to be here today (6 July 2017), not least because it’s the first time I get to use my new job title in full — Minister for Rail, Accessibility and HS2.
It’s a slightly longer one than I had previously.
I used to just be Rail Minister.
But though I am new to the accessibility brief, I am not new to the issues.
Accessibility in its broadest sense has always been an interest of mine.
Before I became a minister I chaired the Young Disabled People’s All Party Parliamentary Group.
And, sadly, I am not new to the challenge of dementia.
I represent a predominantly older constituency, and many people who either live with dementia or care for those who do.
Yet recently I’ve been reflecting on how society is changing in its attitude to dementia.
And it’s given me cause for optimism.
It wasn’t long ago that dementia was a taboo subject.
If it was talked about, it would be in hushed tones.
And there was a feeling that perhaps you wouldn’t be thanked if you raised it in polite company.
But things are changing.
Partly because it’s more prevalent than ever.
But also because of organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society and its volunteers.
Your work has helped give people with dementia a voice.
And this morning I’d like to set out a few ways in which that voice is being listened to.
Both by the government and by transport operators.
2020 ambition for dementia
Now, I know that the prime minister has an ambition that by 2020 we should be the best country in the world for people with dementia.
And we are making progress.
Over 2 million people in England have become Dementia Friends, for instance.
I am glad to say that I am one of them.
But our aim is to increase that number to at least 4 million.
But if we are to truly succeed, we need every section of our economy to take action.
So I’d like to mention a few things that we’re doing to improve transport.
First, there’s the work being done by our mobility centres.
Each year we provide funding just shy of 4 and a half million pounds to 13 mobility centres in England to conduct driving assessments.
Demand for those assessments is increasing 10%, year on year.
And the largest area of increase is people living with dementia.
Now, there’s often a lot of fear and anxiety about people being told they can’t drive any more.
But, actually, the mobility centres’ role is to enable people to keep driving safely wherever they can.
And more often than not, that is what they achieve.
Last year, just over 2,000 people referred to the mobility centres were advised to stop driving.
But almost 5,000 more were supported to continue driving safely.
And an increasing number of those will be people already living with dementia.
So a diagnosis of dementia is not in itself a reason to stop driving.
The important thing is to keep people safe through relying on proper evidence, not snap judgements.
And because we insist on evidence — evidence that’s improving all the time — today 1 in 3 people with dementia are still able to drive safely.
Bus Services Act provisions
Of course, we also need to do more for people who cannot or choose not to drive.
For them, public transport is a lifeline.
It keeps them in touch with friends and family and provides access to healthcare.
So I was really pleased that just before the election our Bus Services Act was approved by parliament.
It provides powers to ensure that buses make both audible and visual announcements about the route and the next stop.
This simple reassurance of being reminded where the bus is heading and the next stop could make all the difference to someone with dementia.
So this year we will work with the bus industry, passengers and disability groups to develop the policy.
Travel to appointments competition
This intervention is a classic case of where improving technology can offer new solutions.
There’s huge potential here.
But innovation works best when it’s aimed at a specific problem that needs to be solved.
Consider, for example, the need to travel to medical appointments.
Everyone knows how stressful it can be to get to an appointment on time.
Especially when it’s in a big, unfamiliar hospital in a part of town you otherwise rarely visit.
Well, consider how difficult that experience can be for people with dementia.
It’s so difficult, in fact, that too often they don’t make to the appointment at all.
And for those who do get there, they could arrive in a state of distress.
That’s a problem too — feeling calm is important if the doctor is to make a proper dementia assessment, or to recommend the right treatment.
It’s also just a horrible experience to go through.
So last year we contributed £120,000 to a competition to find innovative ways of reducing dementia patients’ anxiety about attending medical appointments.
We set some sensible criteria.
We wanted to involve patient groups.
We wanted a person with dementia to sit on the judges’ panel.
And we wanted solutions that work for all parts of the journey.
The competition is still ongoing, so I can’t announce any winners yet.
But I can say we received some promising entries.
Five of which were subjected to a dragons’-den style interrogation.
Of which 2 have been selected and will now be taken to demonstration phase.
Our aim is to get products to market — so it’s not just about nice ideas, but real commercial viability.
I hope we can announce more as the design and testing progresses over the summer.
Rail industry action
That’s just a few things we’re doing to make transport better for people with dementia.
But I wanted to mention some excellent work being taken forward by the private transport operators.
As Rail Minister, I am biased — but rail can be a particularly good form of travel for people with dementia.
Normally in speeches I like to emphasise how our railways are changing, and improving.
And they are.
But there’s much about our railways that remains constant.
And when it comes to dementia, that can be a good thing.
Routes remain the same for generations.
Trains call at the same familiar stops, in a familiar order, that they did in a passenger’s childhood.
Railways endure when all else has changed.
That means railways are evocative of memory.
But it also means they can be easy to use.
So I’ve been pleased to see rail companies seizing the opportunity to better serve people with dementia.
East Anglia trains has worked with the Alzheimer’s society to deliver a dementia awareness pilot for staff at 4 stations — Norwich, Ipswich, Chelmsford and Cambridge.
Their plan is to deliver this training to all station staff.
I’ve also been pleased that Arriva Rail Northern has provided funds to develop the Bentham Line from Leeds to Lancaster and Morecambe as a ‘centre for excellence’ for people with dementia.
This is encouraging, but it’s not just rail.
Many airports have been making progress too.
In November, the Civil Aviation Authority published guidance on assisting passengers with hidden disabilities.
The response has been very positive.
Airports are increasingly offering special quiet routes and quiet areas.
Most airports now offer familiarisation visits to those who would benefit from them before they fly.
Heathrow has pledged to train all its 76,000 staff in dementia awareness.
And last year Gatwick was awarded the Alzheimer’s Society Dementia friendly innovation award.
I know that there are many more initiatives under way.
That there are so many transport operators here today indicates how seriously this is being taken.
But it would be remiss of me not to call for even more action.
Because we’re only at the very beginning.
Our goal should be to place the same importance on serving passengers with dementia as we do for physical disabilities.
Later this year we will publish our accessibility action plan.
It’s a plan for addressing the barriers faced by disabled people in using transport.
And it includes a focus on hidden disabilities, such as dementia.
We’re going to put it out in draft first, to give people the chance comment.
And I’d love to get your views on whether our plans are the right ones.
But I’d like to finish with the words of a person who lives with dementia herself.
In March, Dr Joy Watson spoke at an accessibility and innovation conference we held in Westminster.
Three years ago, Dr Watson was diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer’s.
And at our conference she spoke of her work as an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society.
And how being part of the national dementia picture is what gets her out of bed in the morning.
But she also said that:
A diagnosis of dementia is not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new journey.
Some people need a little more help to take the first steps, and if I can contribute to them living well, then my mission is fulfilled.
I suggest that we who work in transport adopt that mission as our own.