The burden of an ageing population

One of the biggest challenges facing the NHS today is an ageing population that is living longer, many with complex illnesses. The number of people aged over 80 in Britain is forecast to more than double to 6.2 million within the next 25 years. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number aged over 90 will more than triple, while the number of centenarians will rise almost nine fold from 13,000 to 111,000.

People over 75 currently make up around 30 per cent of emergency hospital admissions, putting undue strain on hospitals and accident and emergency departments. Hospital treatment for over 75s has also increased by 65 per cent over the past decade. Someone over 85 is now 25 times more likely to spend a day in hospital than those under 65. To add to this list of alarming statistics, the number of older people likely to require care is predicted to rise by over 60 per cent by 2030.

The situation is placing an unprecedented financial burden on the NHS in its current form. In the Department of Health’s mandate to NHS England: April 2014 to March 2015, it outlines the need for a transformation in the way the NHS provides care for older people and those with complex needs from a current system which is largely reactive – to a proactive service which is centred around the needs of each individual patient.

In his first speech as the new chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens warned the pressure on the NHS is intensifying and explained that the biggest effort in the organisation’s history will be required to save the NHS from the burden of an ageing population and the rising cost of healthcare. The way care is delivered outside hospitals must be radically transformed to cope with the country’s growing elderly population, he said.

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Martin McShane, NHS England’s national director for people with long-term conditions said the NHS in its current form is not well set up to look after patients who are medically complicated, especially if they have several long-term conditions, such as arthritis, heart failure and the early signs of dementia. He said the challenges posed by patients with chronic medical conditions are so great they represent the “healthcare equivalent to climate change” and must force the NHS to undertake a major rethink of how it cares for such patients.