Emmerdale star John Middleton has slammed the major political parties’ “woeful” attention to addressing common health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The actor, 63, played Ashley Thomas, who died in an emotional recent episode of the soap following a battle with dementia.

Speaking as the ITV show picked up this year’s TV Bafta award for best soap, he told how he is still thanked by strangers every day for his portrayal of the degenerative condition.

Emmerdale cast
Emmerdale cast (Ian West/PA)

Joined by fellow cast members at the event at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Sunday, he said: “It’s extraordinary how not a day goes by that I don’t get stopped in the street by somebody saying ‘thank you very much for doing this story’, because it has affected them because of a relative who has had the disease.

“That’s hardly surprising because the Alzheimer’s Society, who have been immensely helpful, told us currently there are 850,000 people diagnosed with this disease in the UK alone, and that figure is likely to rise to about two million.

“It is the biggest health problem that we have in the Western world and I don’t think we are addressing it enough.

“I know we are not supposed to say anything politically, but David Cameron did commit £300 million to research for dementia and that has never been mentioned by any of the political parties in the current election campaign, and I think that’s woeful.

“We are living in a democracy and as such we are all politicians, and we’ve all got to do our best to help people with this condition and ultimately combat it and if we’ve raised awareness around that then I am very, very proud of what we have done.”

Emmerdale was the only ITV soap to receive a nod in the category at the prestigious awards event this year, with Coronation Street failing to make the cut despite a number of hard-hitting recent storylines.

Series producer Ian MacLeod said: “I think we’ve had a fantastically good year … I would be lying if I said I didn’t think we deserved it.

“Everyone on the screen and behind the scenes has worked extremely hard so I am thrilled by it.”