DEMENTIA is one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS today, particularly as Scotland’s population ages. For those diagnosed with the disease, it is crucial that they are given the utmost support – and the earlier the intervention the better.

The Scottish Government, in its Local Delivery Plan Standards agreed with NHS boards, declared that “all those newly diagnosed with dementia should have a minimum of 12 months post-diagnostic support”. A grand aspiration – and one spectacularly unfulfilled.

According to the latest figures, less than half of those diagnosed have received such support. Just as disturbing are the large variations in different NHS areas, with 61.3 per cent in Lanarkshire receiving support, but only 18.6 per cent in Grampian. Serious questions must be asked about such disparities. At national level, the disparity between aims and reality is once more starkly revealed. Pledges, targets, aspirations and the like all sound grand at the time of their declaration, but usually less so when their performance is later assessed. Missed targets are rarely out of the news, but this one has been missed by a particularly large margin.

The failure will embarrass the SNP Government. Obviously, it cares. Obviously, it is trying. And it isn’t obvious that any of the opposition parties would do any better. But it is incumbent upon the administration to deliver on what it has promised, and to heed the shock expressed by charities working at the sharp end. Alzheimer Scotland has declared itself “deeply disappointed”. Age Scotland says the figures are “inexcusable”.

These organisations, along with sufferers and carers, are owed an explanation. Of course, the system is under enormous pressure. Dealing with dementia is never going to be easy. Rising demand stretches resources. The best-laid plans and the real world become separated by a chasm of practical difficulties. But the point remains that those diagnosed with dementia need support. And delivering that requires more than mere aspiration.