BGS responds to new research showing link between frailty and austerity

08 February 2024

The British Geriatrics Society welcomes this new study published on 7 February in the journal PLOS ONE which looked at rates of frailty among older people in England between 2002 and 2018. It found that more older people developed frailty during the years of government austerity policies in the 2010s, with those from lower socioeconomic groups more likely to develop frailty.

Frailty refers to the decline in an individual’s ability to recover from a period of ill health, meaning that illnesses which are usually minor are more likely to have a more serious effect on health and wellbeing. Frailty affects around one in ten people over 65 years of age and up to 50% of those aged 85 and over. Over half of adults in hospitals or care home settings at any one time experience frailty, with the condition costing health systems in the UK £5.8billion a year. We already know that rates of frailty are affected by inequalities. Inequalities contribute to worse health outcomes across the life course, resulting in increased levels of frailty experienced by people from lower socioeconomic groups, often at younger ages. This research further shows the impact of poverty on developing the condition.

Professor Adam Gordon, President of the British Geriatrics Society, said:

BGS members are frontline healthcare professionals and every day we see how social isolation, the inability to get out, to exercise and to eat well can impact upon the health and wellbeing of our older patients. Older people with frailty use health and social care services more than any other population group. Despite this, services are not designed around the needs of this user group. Older people are more likely than other age groups to face long waits in emergency departments and are more likely to get stuck in hospital because of a lack of care available in the community. This has a knock-on effect on the whole system; if older people cannot be discharged, new patients cannot be admitted. This contributes to overcrowding in emergency departments, longer waits for ambulances to attend emergencies and a massive backlog for elective care. In addition to the suffering experienced, these examples illustrate the longer term costs of austerity.

Frailty is not an inevitable part of ageing – we know that it can be prevented and, if identified early enough, may be reversed with the right interventions. As we approach an election, it is essential that all major political parties have clear strategies for investing in prevention, care and support services, not just for older people who already live with frailty, but for those at risk of developing it in the future.”