Plan needed to help ageing population with multiple conditions, charities warn

elderly person
elderly person

Two in three pensioners will suffer from multiple conditions within the next decade as Britain gets older and unhealthier, experts have warned.

Charities are calling for action to help patients, warning that too many are being bounced from pillar to post because they have more than one health complaint.

In a joint letter, health charities and patients groups are calling on the next government to draw up a new “multiple conditions strategy” to put patients first.

Forecasts suggest that by 2035, 67 per cent of people over the age of 65 will suffer from multiple conditions – up from 54 per cent in 2015.

The figures suggest an 84 per cent rise in the number of older people battling with at least four conditions, with almost one in five pensioners left in this position by 2035.

Patients ‘overwhelmed’

Experts said too many patients were being left “overwhelmed” by trying to juggle the demands of different illnesses and appointments because the different health professionals and other agencies involved in their care did not speak to each other.

They said this would only get worse unless the system was redesigned so that information was properly shared between medical professionals, and the needs of the patient put first.

The Richmond Group of Charities, The Patients Association and National Voices are calling on the next government to draw up a “multiple conditions strategy” which addresses the needs of the “forgotten majority”.

In particular, they called for changes to improve the NHS app to help people manage their own conditions while saying health service planners should be tasked to redesign care of those with multiple health complaints.

Research suggests that around 25 million people in England are suffering from at least one long-term condition, while around 13 million people have at least two.

The proportion rises with age, with many frail and vulnerable pensioners left trying to manage multiple medications and a succession of disjointed hospital appointments.

Last week, Amanda Pritchard, the head of the NHS, highlighted forecasts anticipating a 55 per cent rise in the number of people aged 85 and over in the next 15 years.

She said: “That’s great, but it means we need to be ready. Seven in eight people aged 85 or older live with at least one long-term health condition and in fact, at that age, you’re more than twice as likely to be living with three or more health problems than you are to have none.

“For the NHS, more illness means more demand, requiring more capacity. More people, more places, more equipment, more drugs. All those things add up to more costs.”

Separate studies have found that one in five people over retirement age are on at least seven types of drug, with over-prescribing linked to emergency hospital admissions.

Other data suggest that long-term conditions take up as much as half of all GP appointments and 70 per cent of hospital bed days.

Estimates suggest that such conditions, which include diabetes, arthritis, dementia and heart disease, take up £7 in every £10 of healthcare expenditure.

‘Government must make it a top priority’

Latest figures show a record 2.8 million people are out of work as a result of long-term conditions, a number which has increased by 700,000 over the past three years.

Duleep Allirajah, chief executive of the Richmond Group of Charities, a coalition of 13 health and care voluntary organisations, said: “With rising rates of long-term illness and multimorbidity, it’s vital that the Government makes the prevention and care of long-term conditions its top priority.

“People tell us their care is too often fragmented, that the agencies involved in their care don’t speak to each other or consider their health needs in the context of their lives, leading to patients and their families feeling overwhelmed by the administrative burden of managing multiple interactions with different parts of the system.

“We need to redesign multimorbidity care so that it is joined up, designed around what patients need and supports people to live as well and as independently as they can.”

Jacob Lant, chief executive of National Voices, a coalition of health and social care charities, said: “We hear from our members, over 200 health and care charities, that people with long-term conditions are unable to access the coordinated, holistic and consistent care that they need to live happy and fulfilling lives.

“So, we are proud to join with leading patient organisations in a call for the current and future government to prioritise this forgotten majority.

“Patient experience must be centralised in success measurements, and government must work meaningfully with people with lived experience to ensure the best possible outcomes for people living with long-term conditions.”