The UK’s ageing population is being let down by an inadequate and fragmented health and social care system, warns a new BMA report
BMA press release (25 September): A new BMA report warns that the UK’s fragmented health and social care system is failing older patients as it is unable to cope with the increasing pressure from an ageing population with more complex needs.
This follows warnings from the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust1 that vulnerable, older people in England are having to fend for themselves because government-funded care is being scaled back, with spending on care by councils falling by a quarter in real terms in the five years up to 2015.
“Growing older in the UK”, the BMA’s series of expert-authored briefing papers on ageing and health2, highlight the increasing demand and inadequate resources facing the UK’s health and social care system. [Jim George and Finbarr Martin were amongst the contributors to the briefing papers].
It is estimated that four in 10 people aged over 65 years old and seven in 10 over 85 years olds have a long-term illness. Out of sixteen million adults admitted to hospital in England in 2014-2015, almost half (47%) were aged over 65.
The report calls for more to be done to support and improve people’s health and wellbeing as they grow older in the UK, including:
- Action to tackle the social isolation and maximise participation of older people, supported through a greater focus on ‘social prescribing’ – connecting people to non-medical and community support services.
- A focus on tackling the under-diagnosis and under-treatment of mental health conditions in older adults, to help ensure that parity of esteem between older people’s physical and mental health becomes a reality.
- A focus on developing a ‘carer friendly health service’, whereby carers are identified, provided with adequate information and advice, and their expertise listened to and respected. Carers should also be supported to look after their own health, as well as that of the person they are caring for.
- Developing an environment where older people are valued for the many ways they contribute to society throughout their lives, and where everyone is supported to maximise their potential as they grow older.
Professor Parveen Kumar, BMA board of science chair, said:
“The UK’s ageing population is being failed by a fragmented and over-stretched health and social care system. Far more needs to be done by the government to support greater co-ordination and integration of health and social care services and ensure that these services can cope with the growing needs of older patients.
“In particular, we must tackle the under-diagnosis and under-treatment of mental health conditions in older adults, to make sure that their mental health is treated as importantly as their physical health.
“We know that only a small proportion of older people with depression seek treatment, with research suggesting that although 20-40 per cent of older people in the community show signs of depression meriting treatment, only 4-8 per cent consult a GP. We owe it to these patients to turn this around.
“We must also consider the families and loved ones who may be caring for those who are growing older. In the UK today, there are a staggering 6.5 million people providing a level of unpaid care to a relative, close friend or neighbour. The replacement value of carers’ support is worth a staggering £132 billion a year – that’s equivalent to a second NHS.
“Caring is something that most people do, but which they are not prepare or trained for, and which can have a devastating impact on carer’s lives in terms of work, health, income, family and other relationships.
“We must ensure there is a focus on a carer friendly health services which supports carers not only to look after their loved one, but to look after their own health and wellbeing as well.
“With demand on health and social care services increasing the government must outline long-term solutions that provide the security that older people need and deserve.”
2/ This series of briefing papers have been authored by external experts and published under the auspices of the BMA board of science. The contributing experts include:
Briefing paper 1 – Dr Jessica Allen, Ms Sorcha Daly – UCL Institute of Health Equity
Briefing paper 2 – Professor Jill Manthorpe – King’s College London
Briefing paper 3 – Dr Susan Mary Benbow, Dr Sarmishta Bhattacharyya – University of Chester
Briefing paper 4 – Dr Jim George – North Cumbria University Hospital Trust and Professor Finbarr Martin – King’s College London
Briefing paper 5 – Dr Hannah J Swift, Professor Dominic Abrams, Lisbeth Drury – University of Kent and Dr Ruth A Lamont – University of Exeter
Briefing paper 6 – Emily Holzhausen – Carers UK