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Surge in elderly patients ‘could overwhelm the NHS’

Chief Medical Officer warns of a rise in patients suffering multiple conditions

The NHS risks being overwhelmed by the country’s ageing population, England’s new Chief Medical Officer has warned.

Chris Whitty said drastic action is needed to cope with a surge in the number of patients aged over 65.

In particular, countryside districts and coastal towns with older populations are often poorly served by GPs, hospital clinics, ambulances and out-of-hours providers.

Figures show 18% of the population is over 65 but this is expected to reach 24% by 2038.

Whitty said the ageing of the population in rural areas will occur much faster and there will be a much higher concentration of people who have more health needs.

“We have to think about this both for now and also accordingly for the future, this is a future issue,” he told the Daily Mail. “If we did nothing on this we will get to a situation where the burden of disease for the country – the number of people who are actually suffering from lots of long-term medical conditions – will go up and service delivery will stay where it is. The gap between what people need and what people get will widen.”

Whitty warned that the increase in over-65s will result in many more patients suffering from multiple long-term conditions, such as dementia, cancer, diabetes, cataracts, heart disease and osteoporosis.

He said some patients can end up having five or six different hospital outpatient clinics for each illness, which is “neither good medicine, nor is it convenient for patients”.

Whitty wants to reform doctors’ training so they are more generalist than specialist.

He also wants medical schools to be set up in some of the rural and coastal locations where populations are ageing the quickest.