A world-leading Scots dementia expert has quit the NHS in Scotland saying patients are being denied life-changing drugs because of roadblocks in the system.

Professor Craig Ritchie has led a drive, funded by the Scottish Government, to set up brain health clinics across the county.

He warned last year in The Herald that progress in rolling out the clinics was being delayed by the “structural layers of numerous health boards”.

He said there was some frustration that Scotland’s “enviable position” in dementia research, prevention and treatment was “slow to be picked up from some agencies within Scottish Government and the NHS”.

He said efforts to prevent diseases such as dementia were being halted by a system that “waits until people are sick”.

After 33 years he is leaving the NHS, The Sunday Times reports, lamenting the "tragedy" that radical new drugs are not finding their way to patients.

READ MORE: Dementia will be 'rare condition' within 20 years, Scots expert says

He said rather than getting early diagnoses, which would allow the progression of the illness to be slowed, symptomatic patients are being forced to wait 18 months for assessments at hospital memory clinics.

He is now opening his own network of dementia prevention research centres across Scotland, which will give patients free access to the latest diagnostic tests and medications through big drug trials funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

It comes after a large-scale trial reported that a new treatment called donanemab decelerated the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by almost a third.

Brain function was shown to deteriorate more slowly and there was less build up of the toxic amyloid plaques that characterise the disease.

Prof Ritchie said: "It’s not the science we are waiting for.

“There are drugs that clear amyloid, there are tests that detect amyloid now. 

READ MORE: Dementia progress halted by NHS that 'waits until people are sick'

“The problem is getting them to the people.  We are ready for the next generation of treatments to start.

“The problem is the infrastructure is not in place to do it.


“When we talk about an 18 month or two-year delay for a memory clinic appointment, that should be a scandal,” he said.

He added: “We keep saying the NHS is at breaking point.

“Let’s reflect, if we were to define what broken looks like five years ago how different would our definition be back then to what we are doing today in terms of waiting lists.

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“Is it at the point where the government or the state can provide a basic level of healthcare for its citizens?”

He said what he was doing in his memory clinic in 2023 was identical to what he did in a clinic in Melbourne in 1998.

He was instrumental in setting up a new clinic at Murrayfield Station for former rugby players amid concern, backed by ground-breaking University of Glasgow studies, over the long-term effects of head trauma in sport.

Studies he led at Edinburgh University revealed that impacts on the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease probably begin when people are in their fifties and have no symptoms.

The Scottish Government backed his plan to set up clinics nationwide which would provide patients with lifestyle guidance to protect their brain health.

He said things “did not move as rapidly as everyone would like” and now plans to replicate the plan, funded through research trials.


He has set up a company called Scottish Brain Sciences, which aims to capture the signs of dementia before significant symptoms develop.

The company is said to be on the cusp of confirming on multi-million pound trial and hopes to have centres in several Scottish cities by the end of the year, employing 50 or 60 staff.

Henry Simmons, chief executive of Alzheimer Scotland, has credited Prof Ritchie for Scotland being ahead of the game, in a world where dementia is preventable.

Jackie Baillie, health spokeswoman for Scottish Labour, said: “How disappointing that someone as brilliant and innovative a thinker as Craig Ritchie has left the NHS in Scotland.”

Dementia will be a rare condition within 20 years, a leading Scots expert believes.

Prof Ritchie has said it is his hope that dementia will be a rare condition within 20 years because scientists now understand the disease and how to prevent around 40% of cases.

He said there was strong evidence that lifestyle changes by an 85-year-old could delay the onset of dementia to 95 or even 100.

Research by the Lancet Commission indicated that head trauma is one of the 12 ‘modifiable risk factors’ for the disease. Others include excess alcohol intake, obesity, hearing loss in mid-life and high blood pressure.

Prof Ritchie said: "“We understand the disease, we understand what is is going on in the brain.

“The biggest hurdle is getting services like this [brain health clinic]. We need to get to people before dementia develops."

Maree Todd, the mental wellbeing minister, said: “Long waits to access dementia healthcare are not acceptable.

“We allocated additional funding last year, following the ring-fenced sum of £3.5million invested in 2021-22, to meet the local service shortfall and address variation across health boards on post-diagnostic support.”