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Predicted increase in major illnesses ‘reinforces need to invest in general practice’

Predicted increase in major illnesses ‘reinforces need to invest in general practice’

More than nine million people in England will be living with major illnesses by 2040, with the majority of the burden being placed on primary care, according to new research.

Analysis conducted by the Health Foundation REAL Centre alongside the University of Liverpool sets out the scale and impact of the number of people living with major illnesses as the population ages.

Researchers predict there will there will be 2.5 million more people living with a major illness in 2040 than in 2019 – an increase of 37% or nine times the rate at which the working age population is expected to grow over the same period.

This means around one in five of the adult population in England – or 9.1 million – will be living with a major illness by 2040, researchers suggested in a new report published today.

The growth in long-term conditions will largely be a product of an ageing population in England, with people over 70 years old making up 80% of the projected increase, it said.

And researchers suggested that much of this predicted growth would be driven by conditions predominantly treated outside hospitals and in primary care and the community.

Anita Charlesworth, director of the REAL Centre said that the next two decades will ‘place additional demand on all parts of the NHS, particularly primary care, where services are already under extreme pressure’.

She added: ‘But with one in five people projected to be living with major illness in less than two decades’ time, the impact will extend well beyond the health service and has significant implications for other public services, the labour market and the public finances.’

Predictions within the report suggest the conditions which will account for the greatest increase within the next 20 years will include anxiety and depression, chronic pain and diabetes.

The number of patients living with chronic pain is expected to increase 32% to around seven million, while those living with diabetes is predicted to increase by 49% to almost six million by 2040, according to the researchers.

Meanwhile, cases of anxiety and depression are predicted to rise by 16%, with more than four million cases in England.

These increases reinforced ‘the need to invest in general practice and community-based services’, said the report.

The only disease where numbers are expected to decline was coronary heart disease, which is predicted to fall from 6.6% of the over 30 population to 5.3%. Researchers suggested this was down to declining smoking rates and more effective preventative medication.

While the report claimed there was no ‘silver bullet’ to reduce the growth in people living with major illness, it highlighted the need for a long-term plan to ‘reform, modernise and invest in the NHS, alongside a bold, new approach that invests in the nation’s health and wellbeing’.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) director for England, Patricia Marquis said that the report should be a ‘wake-up call’ for the government.

‘Nursing staff play a vital role caring for people with long-term conditions as well as preventing them from happening in the first place,’ Ms Marquis said.

‘But none of this can happen without investment in a workforce that has seen its numbers fall.’

She pointed to recent analysis from the RCN which showed the number of community and district nurses ‘fell by over 40% over 13 years’.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are ensuring the NHS is fit for both the challenges of today and for the future and we have committed an extra £39bn in the last year to recover from Covid, cut waiting lists and put health and care services on a sustainable footing.

‘Our forthcoming Major Conditions Strategy will also outline how best to prevent, diagnose, and manage six key conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, that drive ill health and early death in England.’

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