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Health, care and the 100-year life

A child born today has a one in three chance of living to 100. This is the first in a series of reports focusing on how the 100-year life may affect Britain’s society, economy and public services. This report focuses on health, care and medicine.

Increasing longevity raises a series of questions about the future of the health, care and medicine systems of the UK. Are these systems sustainable? What new challenges might these systems face? Will the 100-year life be beneficial to all members of society?

Part two of this report focuses on the sustainability of the NHS and social care, the future of access to medicines and the inequalities in life expectancy throughout the UK. The UK’s rising age dependency ratio may cause problems for a healthcare service that is funded through general taxation and therefore relies heavily on those of working age. There is a risk that the cost pressures faced by the NHS could lead to a situation whereby new and innovate medicines are not available to people relying on state healthcare. This could lead to a two-tier health system in the UK. There is much discussion about wealth and income inequality in the UK – but health inequality and life expectancy gaps often get overlooked – the analysis shows that between 2011 and 2017, the most deprived men and women in society saw their healthy life expectancy reduce.

Part three focuses on the public’s expectations regarding their health and the healthcare system. Based on polling conducted for the SMF – it is evident that people already doubt the ability of the NHS to continue to operate in its current form. More than half (57%) of respondents to the survey agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “the NHS is not set up to deal with the challenges of an aging population”. The evidence shows that people significantly underestimate their life expectancy, whilst simultaneously overestimating the number of years they will spend in good health. People are overly confident that they will not be affected by a range of conditions and illnesses – only a fifth of people surveyed believe they will be affected by cancer, irrespective of the fact that most evidence points to a prevalence rate of one in two amongst those born after 1960.

To conclude, the report puts forward five policy recommendations to address the issues raised.

  • Public education on longer lives; public awareness on the reality of longer lives and ageing must occur if people are to prepare for later life.
  • Incorporating “teachable moments” into the NHS; people must be supported to make better decisions to improve their health. This is an essential component of the mission to reduce inequality in life expectancy across the UK.
  • Changes to medicine procurement; the NHS and NICE must look beyond the standard methods of procurement to ensure that innovative medicines are not restricted or only available to those not reliant on the state.
  • Social prescribing of digital skills; the government should expand the work of NHS Digital and the Good Things Foundation on social prescribing of digital skills. To ensure no member of society is left behind as health comes digitalised.
  • Improvements to rehabilitation; the government should invest more into rehabilitation and reablement services for the elderly.

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