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Report warns NHS must change to meet the demands of an ageing population

England is facing ‘changing health needs’ as a result of an ageing population, says Public Health England

England is facing ‘changing health needs’ as a result of an ageing population, says Public Health England (PHE).

The Health Profile for England report presented the most recent data on life expectancy, causes of death, child health, and inequalities experienced in healthcare and concluded that the NHS must prepare for changing healthcare demands.

‘More of us are living longer with painful or disabling conditions, including musculoskeletal problems, skin conditions and sensory loss. While these illnesses often attract less attention than causes of early death such as heart disease and cancer, they have a profound effect on the day to day lives of many people and together they place significant pressure on the NHS,’ said Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE.

‘The challenge now is for the NHS to respond to this changing landscape and to focus on preventing as well as treating the conditions which are causing the greatest disease burden across our nation.’

The report found that the number of people living to 85 years old has more than tripled since the 1970s – and this demographic is to reach more than 2 million by 2031.

‘It’s testament to the tremendous efforts of our NHS and public health services that more people are now living longer, but with this achievement comes the reality that more of us are also living with multiple, long-term conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and dementia,’ said Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

‘GPs and our teams make the vast majority of NHS patient contacts, and with our growing and ageing population, our workload is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity.’

The number of people living with diabetes will increase to 5 million by 2035, and dementia and Alzheimer’s may overtake heart disease as the leading cause of death in men; which it already is for women.

The report highlighted significant inequalities in healthcare – those living in the wealthiest areas live on average 19 years longer than those in the poorest areas.

‘Inequalities in health undermine not only the health of the people but also our economy,’ said Duncan Selbie, chief executive of PHE.

‘As we work to develop the NHS long-term plan, we must set the ambition high. If done right, with prevention as its centrepiece, the payoff of a healthier society and more sustainable NHS will be huge.’