What are the consequences of an increasingly ageing population on the NHS?
In an interview with The Guardian, NHS Medical Director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh claimed that without a massive overhaul to the way that the NHS treats patients the service is at great risk of becoming unaffordable and could result in it’s currently free status being challenged.
He said that the current model cannot continue and that the NHS is under-prepared to meet the increasing pressures of an expanding elderly population.
According to a report by the government over 10 million people in the UK are over 65 years old with this number projected to increase by 50% in the next 20 years.
Within this total, the number of very old people (85 year and above) will increase, which could have a direct impact on the NHS. The report goes on to say that the Department of Health estimates that the average cost of providing medical care (in hospitals or community health services) for a person in this age bracket is approximately 300% greater than that of a person aged between 65 and 74 years of age.
Prof. Keogh highlighted a severe lack of local services such as district nurses and beds in community hospitals as a major cause of the increasing demand and pressure on A&E departments and also for the lack of beds in hospitals. The rising number of elderly people with medical issues has resulted in these services being “very, very, very” busy.
However, despite the above and the recent news reports of waiting time targets in A&E not being met, Prof. Keogh states that he does not believe that the NHS (and in particular A&E, GP surgeries and ambulance services) are in crisis.
“Everybody in the NHS knows that they’re under a lot of pressure.”
“The NHS is facing very difficult times, yes. The word ‘crisis’ implies that you can’t deal with it,” said Keogh.
Despite the recent news coverage regarding A&E and the missing targets, the statistics still reported that over nine in 10 patients were being seen within the four hours which is better than much of the rest of the world.
This is a point that ministers within the government have been quick to make, and with the forthcoming general election the news coverage concerning the NHS and the difficulties it faces will no doubt continue to intensify in the build-up.