Rapid rise in patients over 85 highlights need to invest in general practice

The number of patients aged over 85 in England could rise by 50% by 2031 - with dementia set to become the leading cause of death in both men and women by the end of this decade, a report shows.

Rising number of patients aged over 85 (Photo: iStock)
Rising number of patients aged over 85 (Photo: iStock)

GP leaders warned that the rapid change in the population demonstrated the urgent need for investment in general practice, to help GPs cope with soaring workload driven by growing numbers of patients with multiple long-term conditions. 

The latest Health Profile for England report reveals that numbers of patients aged over 85 have more than tripled since the 1970s - rising to 1.35m in 2017. Numbers of patients aged over 85 could rise again by 14% by 2023 - and by almost 50% by 2031, the report suggests.

Life expectancy in England has now risen to 79.6 years for men and 83.2 for women - although patients in the wealthiest areas enjoy 19 years longer in good health on average compared with those in the poorest parts of the country.


The report says that dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which are already the leading cause of death in women, could 'overtake heart disease as early as 2020' as the leading cause of death in men, while numbers of patients with diabetes could rise sharply from around 4m now to 5m in 2035.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'GPs and their teams have played a leading part in enabling people to live longer lives but they also have been directly impacted by the dramatic increase in workload this has brought, as more people live longer with more conditions that require more frequent support and treatment.

'The growing numbers of patients with conditions such as diabetes and dementia, who receive most of their medical care from GP practices, has not been matched by the necessary increase in funding to enable an expansion of the workforce to cope with patients needs. This has led to far too many GPs suffering burnout or leaving the profession altogether.

'This report provides yet more evidence that NHS England and the government must prioritise general practice and community based services when making their long-term plan.'

Multiple morbidity

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'With many patients coming to see their doctor with more than problem, finding time to properly assess someone’s lifestyle can be difficult within the constraints of a standard 10-minute consultation.

'GPs and our teams make the vast majority of NHS patient contacts, and with our growing and ageing population, our workload is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity.

'We desperately need to see NHS England’s GP Forward View, which promises more investment and more GPs, to be delivered, in full – and we also need to see general practice receive an additional £2.5bn extra a year as part of the NHS’s long-term plan, so that we can continue to deliver the care our patients need and deserve.'

GPonline reported earlier this year that more than half of consultations with adults were impossible in 10 minutes because of the number of patients who now live with multiple long-term conditions.

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