Strain of huge boom in elderly population ‘could wreck NHS’

'Fit as a Fiddle' co-ordinator Ketyn Jepson and 96 year-old Kate Bertram.' Picture by Gerard Binks
'Fit as a Fiddle' co-ordinator Ketyn Jepson and 96 year-old Kate Bertram.' Picture by Gerard Binks
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FAILURE to plan for a boom in the elderly population will place such a strain on services that it will threaten the future of the NHS, it is claimed today.

A group representing older people warns Britain is “sleepwalking to disaster” by its lack of preparation for one of the biggest demographic changes since the post-war baby boom.

Projections obtained by the Yorkshire Post show massive increases in the elderly population over the next 20 years, with this region set for some of the biggest rises.

The strain will be severe in parts of North Yorkshire, where in the Scarborough borough more than 40 per cent of residents will be 65 or over by 2028 – more than twice the national average.

The largest rises will be among those aged over 85 – those most in need of care – with rates across the county set to far outstrip even the huge national increase.

It is expected the number of people aged 85 or over will rise by 145 per cent in Richmondshire by 2030, by 125 per cent in the East Riding, and two years earlier by 93 per cent in North Yorkshire, compared with an 80 per cent rise in England and an overall population increase of 12 per cent.

Yet amid growing concern about the quality and capacity of care for older people – the Royal College of Physicians warns that hospitals are so full that elderly patients are being discharged in the middle of the night – neither the health service nor local authorities can say how they will cope, what the care bill will be or how it is going to be paid for.

The Department of Health estimates that those aged over 65 already account for around two-thirds of NHS spending on general and acute care, with about 30 per cent of expenditure going on over-75s.

Experts are now calling for a national strategy for older people and radical reform of the social care system.

Dr Ros Altmann, director general of the over-50s group Saga, said: “We need a national strategy. We can’t rely on local authorities who have got different demographic experiences being able to cope with this alone, but unfortunately local authorities are not making long-term plans for how to deal with ageing populations. They do plan for increases in the number of children but not for the number of older people.”

She added: “We are sleep-walking to disaster here. It’s inevitable if we don’t plan for this the NHS will fail. Some councils with particularly high proportions of older people will simply not be able to provide basic services.”

Michelle Mitchell, director general of the charity Age UK, said increased longevity should be celebrated, but attitudes and policy both need to change. “As a society we need to change our attitudes towards ageing and older people so that we can all stay active and independent for as long as possible, but for those who need support we need to make sure they get good quality care,” she said.

“The current social care system urgently needs radical reform and a sustainable funding source to ensure that both this and future generations of older people are confident that when they need help, they will not be left to cope alone.”

She added: “The system at the moment too often fails older people through inadequate funding, lack of communication and treating older people as problems to be dealt with rather than as people.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Our priority is to improve people’s health at all stages of their lives – including in later life. That is why the Care and Support White Paper published this summer set out a range of commitments to improve people’s well-being, safety and independence in older age instead of waiting for them to reach a crisis point.”