Have your say on the Government's health reforms

MPs will start important discussions about the Health and Social Care Bill in Parliament today. The controversial Bill proposes major changes to the way health and social care works in England and we're concerned about how this could affect people with Parkinson's.

At the moment, most of the decisions about what health care people with Parkinson's receive, for example whether there is a Parkinson's nurse, are made by a primary care trust (PCT). In the future, these decisions will be made by GPs who will group together to form consortia.

We're pleased that the Government is giving more choice to people over who provides treatment for Parkinson's. For example, someone with Parkinson's will have the right to choose their neurologist. The Government wants people to vote with their feet and choose top quality specialists. However, people might not be able to travel to a good neurologist. We need to make sure that everyone with Parkinson's has access to good quality health and social care.

We want MPs to listen to the voice of people who rely on the NHS and social care, and improve the Bill. We're asking the Government to strengthen its existing plans by making it compulsory for GPs to ask charities like ours, as well as people who use the NHS, what healthcare should be available.

We have written to MPs to ask them to raise these issues in Parliament. And we want your help to make sure that people with Parkinson's are listened to. Find out how you can take action.

Science Under Attack

On Monday night, Nobel-winning geneticist and president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse presented the BBC2 Horizon documentary, Science Under Attack – an exploration of growing public scepticism and hostility towards modern science.

The programme took a fascinating look at how extreme political and ideological ideas have weaved their way into mainstream media and public debate on key scientific issues, threatening to derail the progress of scientific innovation. The importance of using scientific evidence and the power of experiment in informing opinion on both sides of these debates was stressed.

Reflecting on cases such as the 'ClimateGate' controversy of November 2009, Sir Paul warns that scientists must engage more openly with the public, whom he says, they must not take for granted.

He states: "Earning trust requires more than just focusing on the science. We have to communicate it effectively too. Scientists have to talk to the media… Because if we do not do that, it will be filled by others who don't understand the science and who may be driven by politics or ideology."

This is of crucial and universal importance to scientists everywhere – including the Parkinson's research community. We always strive to effectively communicate our research work and ensure that we remain the most trusted UK authority on all things relating to Parkinson's.

Our 5-year research strategy sets out our plans to focus on finding a cure for Parkinson's.

And there are many ways that you can get involved in Parkinson's research.

Can music help people with Parkinson's?

Recent research carried out in Montreal has revealed a fascinating link between the experience of listening to music and the release of the chemical dopamine in the brain.

Dopamine has long been established as one of the brains key 'feel-good' chemicals - but this is the first study to look specifically at dopamine levels in response to listening to music. The study confirms that levels of the chemical in particular areas of the brain were up to 9% higher when volunteers were listening to music they particularly liked.

Researchers carefully chose a small sample of people to analyse based on their high emotional sensitivity to music. The study measured the release of dopamine at peak levels of enjoyment, marked by the moment when participants reported to feel a 'shiver' down the spine as a result of their listening experience.

Dopamine is also of great interest for Parkinson's. Although we don't yet know the exact causes of the condition, we do know that Parkinson's occurs as a result of a decrease in the brain's production of the chemical due to the death of nerve cells. This is essential for movement and co-ordination.

Many people with Parkinson's do report that music really benefits their symptoms and helps to manage the condition.

If you're affected by Parkinson's and have a passion for music or any other creative arts, we would love to hear from you on the ways in which it helps living with the condition.

Looking to the future of UK research

This week the Academy of Medical Sciences launched a report, A new pathway for the regulation and governance of health research, commissioned early last year to look at the future of health research in the UK.

As part of the report, we were asked to give our opinion on how we thought research should develop in the future - and most of what we said was taken on board.

One of the key recommendations is for a lot of the Government's research 'quangos' to merge and form a single Health Research Agency. This will make it much easier to implement changes and get rid of the red tape that's currently slowing down medical research.

Another suggestion that will help to speed up clinical research is having each NHS Trust give details of the research that they are supporting, making it more accountable to the public.

If the Government decides to adopt this report, it would help make sure there are fewer barriers to carrying out clinical trials - and organisations such as ours will have a bigger say in how they develop. This will help us make real progress with our research strategy and move closer to our aim of a cure for Parkinson's.

The report emphasises the need for the public having a greater say in medical research. There are many ways in which you can get involved in Parkinson's research. And in 2011 we'll be developing our Research Support Network, which will give people even more opportunities to play their role in all parts of research.

As always, we'll keep you updated on how this is progressing.

Looking ahead, growing stronger

After a couple of weeks of seasonal festivities, it's back to work for all, feeling full of optimism for the coming months. And we begin 2011 by looking ahead to another action-packed year.

Whether you've been involved with Parkinson's UK before or you're just on the lookout for a new challenge to kick-start the new year, 2011 sees another fantastic line-up of events and ways to get involved and join us.

Parkinson's Awareness Week runs from 11-17 April this year. And we'll be encouraging as many people as possible to join us, to help raise funds and spread the word about Parkinson's and the work we do.

We have places available in a variety of running events - from the iconic Great North Run to our own Parkinson's 10k in Berkshire.

For more adventurous spirits, we have a great line-up of overseas treks and cycling challenges taking place throughout the year. Or for those who dare, we are even hosting a Parkinson's UK skydive in April!

2011 is the centenary year of Mervyn Peake's birth and this summer our Mervyn Peake Awards will also mark its 10th anniversary. So it's sure to be an extra special celebration of the creative talents of people with Parkinson's.

We're also really looking forward to pushing ahead with our innovative research and campaigning, to make sure that we continue to make a difference to the lives of people with Parkinson's and move a step closer to finding a cure. If you'd like to make a real difference, join our National Campaigns Network or Research Network.

And there are lots of other ways you can get involved too. What are you going to do in 2011?