Professor John Young, NHS England’s national director for integration and frail elderly care, said frail patients with complex needs were difficult to manage in a healthcare system designed to treat single conditions.
But frailty can lead to falls, delirium and immobility, he warned, and more must be done by practices to assess and support those at risk.
Addressing the RCGP annual conference in Liverpool, he encouraged GPs to use a ‘simple, evidence-based walking speed test’ to assess patients for the risk of frailty.
The test, which assesses whether patients take longer than five seconds to walk four metres, correctly identifies frailty in 99% of cases.
Professor Young encouraged GPs to hold 'conversations', as opposed to consultations, with these patients to allow them to explain their multiple health needs.
GPs should use this ‘narrative-based medicine’ to plan care and support, he said.
Frailty is thought to affect 25-50% of people over the age of 80. Patients can develop ‘hyper-acute symptoms’ to usually minor illness, drastically affecting quality of life.