One in four adults have multiple health problems, 'startling' data finds

Eight in ten prescriptions are issued for those with multiple health problems  - Getty Images Contributor
Eight in ten prescriptions are issued for those with multiple health problems - Getty Images Contributor

More than a quarter of adults in Britain have multiple health problems, according to a major study warning of “alarming” pressures being placed on the NHS.

The research shows that the vast majority of GPs’ time is being taken up by patients with several conditions, with eight in 10 prescriptions now issued to patients with more than one health complaint.

Researchers from Cambridge University said the trend was set to worsen, amid soaring rates of obesity fuel diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

The four-year study of more than 400,000 adults in England found 27.2 per cent were suffering from more than one health condition - with even higher rates among women.  

High blood pressure was the most common - with almost one in five patients found to be suffering from it. And one in ten patients were diagnosed with depression or anxiety, while one in ten had chronic pain.

The research showed that overlaps between the diseases were common, with an average of three conditions each for those aged 75 and over.

What blood pressure readings mean
What blood pressure readings mean

Overall, 30 per cent of women had multiple conditions, along with 24.4 per cent of men.

More than half of GP visits and hospital admissions were found to be devoted to those with multiple conditions, and 79 per cent of prescriptions were issued to those with more than one complaint.

Researchers said the shocking figures showed the need to redesign services to create “one stop shops” to treat patients more holistically.

They said NHS systems - which fund hospitals for appointments to treat separate diseases - did not put the patient first, and wasted precious resources.

Dr Duncan Edwards, a research fellow from Cambridge University, said: “The numbers are just startling when you see them in black and white.

“The average person with diabetes has three or four other conditions, yet the NHS structures forbid looking after patients properly. We need a one-stop shop, not a system that thinks in terms of single diseases.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard - Credit: PA/Grainge Photography/Royal Colleg 
Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs said the research showed why GPs need longer with patients Credit: PA/Grainge Photography/Royal Colleg

Dr Edwards said pressures were expected to deepen, given Britain’s rising obesity rates.

Two in three adults are now overweight or obese, while three quarters of millenials are set to reach this point by the age of around 40, on current trends.

Mapped England’s obesity hotspots
Mapped England’s obesity hotspots

“Chronic pain, high blood pressure and diabetes are some of the most common conditions, and all are fuelled by obesity - we are going to be seeing more and more of this in future,” he warned.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum said too many people were eating “relentlessly” despite constant reminders about the number of diseases linked to excess weight.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the research showed that family doctors need far more time with many of their patients.

“This large-scale, comprehensive research is further evidence of the increasing complexity of cases that GPs are dealing with, and the inadequacy of the standard 10-minute consultation," she said.

The GP said the slots were not long enough for patients with complex needs, but said that attempts to give longer appointments meant others had to wait even longer to see a doctor.