What An Ageing Population Means For Primary Care

The challenges of an ageing population have become apparent in primary care, and not just in the UK. All over the world, people are living longer and healthcare systems are struggling to adapt. So what’s the solution here in the UK? Our population currently consists of over three million people aged over the age of 80. By 2030, this figure will almost double, according to projections, and by 2050 will reach eight million.

GPs can help support the ageing population live fuller, healthier lives, but to do so without placing additional strain on the NHS is proving to be a challenge. To explore possible solutions, we must first look at the problem – which isn’t the ageing process itself, but the way we, as healthcare professionals, respond.

The challenges of an ageing population in primary care

Depending on their overall health and lifestyle, most people tend to develop more complex health needs as they age. In addition to the frailty and lack of independence that we often see in elderly patients, there are also physical, psychological and cognitive needs to address.

Research consistently shows that older people are most at risk of falls, disability, admission to hospital, and the need for long-term care. With hospitals stretched for staff and bed space, many older patients lack the ongoing care that they need, and their GP becomes their main point of contact.

The problem is that GP numbers are falling. Faced with more patients and administrative work than ever before, a staggering amount of doctors are leaving the profession or switching to different roles. If the NHS is to manage an ever-increasing ageing population, it needs to not only solve the GP recruitment problem, but also to rethink the health needs of the ageing population. This involves moving from a reactive approach to a proactive approach.

Heath needs of an ageing population: What’s the solution?

According to GP Dr Steve Laitner, tackling the health needs of our ageing population requires an “integrated, holistic, personalised, coordinated care approach with a high degree of continuity.”

Going forward, older patients will need a comprehensive care and support plan based on their personal needs, values, goals and preferences. Healthcare professionals will then take a “case management” approach to elderly care, providing urgent care when it is most needed.

This approach is likely to be multidisciplinary, involving support staff and voluntary sector support in addition to healthcare professionals and specialists. In this scenario, a GP or geriatrician would work as part of the team and focus explicitly on the holistic needs of the ageing population.

NHS England is also working in partnership with Age UK to face the challenges of a growing population. Together, Age UK and the NHS will work to raise awareness of the challenges of ageing and explore possible solutions.

How you can help

If you want to make a difference to the ageing population and help people better care for their health, why not apply for a role as an out-of-hours GP? Not only will you get to see more patients in a triage capacity and handle a lighter workload, but you’ll also work more flexible hours. To view the latest out-of-hours positions, visit our jobs page or call us on 03000 243 333.