Photo used for illustrative purposes.
Around 2.5 million more people are expected to be living with major illnesses such as cancer, dementia and diabetes in the next two decades, a health think tank has warned.
Research from the Health Foundation predicts that 9.1 million people in England will have a major illness by 2040 – up 37 per cent from 2019.
Cases of dementia are expected to rise by 45 per cent, while cancer rates are set to surge by nearly a third.
The number of people with diabetes will go up by nearly 50 per cent to 7 million, while the number of people with heart failure is expected to increase by a staggering 92 per cent over the period. Cases of those living with anxiety and depression are expected to be up by 16 per cent.
The think tank’s report, carried out by its Real Centre team, warns the surge in major illnesses will mean additional pressure on already stretched GP services, where the bulk of people will seek care.
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Anita Charlesworth, director of the Real Centre, said: “Over the next two decades, the growth in major illness will place additional demand on all parts of the NHS, particularly primary care, where services are already under extreme pressure.
“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.”
Researchers said four-fifths of the jump in major illnesses will be driven by an ageing population, with people living longer meaning they are more likely to encounter – and live with – ill health.
Around 80 per cent (2 million people) of the projected increase in major illness will affect those aged 70 and over.
At the age of 70, people will have an average of three long-term conditions, rising to more than five by the age of 85, researchers said.
By 2040, almost 19 per cent of those aged 20 or older are predicted to be living with serious health issues, meaning there are likely to be 3.5 million people of working age having to cope with a major illness.
Rising obesity rates were identified as a major driver of long-term illnesses, offsetting a projected decrease in the number of people smoking and those with high cholesterol.
The report said that between 2019 and 2040, more people will have spent prolonged periods of their lives with obesity and at increased risk of developing long-term illnesses.
Medical advances meaning people are living longer was seen as the second factor in rising long-term illness rates.
Responding to the report Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said: “Years of cuts to funding for public health and preventative services have severely dented local councils’ efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of their communities and have put an overstretched NHS under more strain.”
She said while trusts are working hard to prevent ill health and reduce inequalities, more focus was needed from the government to prevent ill health and a greater focus on community and social care services.
Dr Layla McKay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, called for a long-term plan for the social care workforce akin to the major plan recently published for the NHS, to ensure the sector has the staff to meet the predicted demand for care within the over-70s.