Miles Briggs: Frank’s Law long overdue for dementia support

Frank Kopel pictured in action for Dundee United against Rangers in 1981
Frank Kopel pictured in action for Dundee United against Rangers in 1981
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There are few illnesses more synonymous with old age than dementia.

Tens of thousands of pensioners across the UK are living with conditions like Alzheimer’s and, as people are living longer, the door is very much opened for these diseases to become more common.

Miles Briggs is the Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary and a Lothians MSP. Picture: Greg Macvean

Miles Briggs is the Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary and a Lothians MSP. Picture: Greg Macvean

But in recent years I’ve become involved in a ­campaign to support those forgotten dementia ­sufferers who are hit by the condition at a much younger age.

One such individual was Frank Kopel, a former professional footballer for Dundee United who was diagnosed at 59.

He died three years ago, but his wife Amanda wants his legacy to live on, and for his experience to make a difference for others. Because he was 59 when the crushing diagnosis was made, he still would have had six years to wait before receiving the free personal care that those over the age of 65 with such conditions can get from government.

As a result, the Frank’s Law campaign was launched, to help those under 65 with life-limiting conditions receive the help they need.

This campaign is supported by all opposition parties at Holyrood and, last week, I officially lodged a ­member’s bill to make this happen.

Since then, the SNP has indicated it is now sympathetic to the idea, and the official consultation process has opened.

That means everyone from charities and support groups to medical professionals and the families of patients can let the Scottish Parliament know what they think about the need for Frank’s Law. It’s exactly what these member’s bills at Holyrood are designed to do; take issues of vital importance, build a base of arguments and make a real change to people’s lives at the other end of the process.

The SNP government had plenty of opportunities to adopt this law before now, but its belated support is welcome.

But it’s not important how this law is implemented – whether through my member’s bill or a sudden onset of conscience from the Scottish Government. What matters is the change happens fast.

Despite being a disease linked with old age, the problem itself is increasing in younger patients.

Last year, more than 800 people aged between 15 and 64 were being treated for dementia north of the ­border and that trend is on the rise.

It’s very clear that this is no longer simply a condition that strikes in old age.

As Amanda says, this change in the law won’t just help people now, but it will help thousands of ­families in future – many of whom would never have envisaged being in the position of having to care for someone who is still relatively young and coping with dementia.

Miles Briggs is the Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary and a Lothians MSP