In an era of significant medical progress, the National Health Service (NHS) faces a formidable challenge: the growing number of people with ill health that threatens to outpace the healthy working-age population. A report published by The Health Foundation in July has projected future patterns of illness for conditions with the highest impact on healthcare use and mortality. The report predicts that by 2040, almost one in five individuals in England will grapple with health conditions like dementia and cancer, a marked increase from the one in six reported in 2019. This underscores the pressing need for innovative and strategic transformations within the healthcare landscape to ensure that the NHS can meet future healthcare requirements.

The NHS is underpinned by the principle of delivering equitable healthcare to all people, regardless of their circumstances. However, the impending surge in ill health threatens to strain the resources and capacities of a traditional hospital-centric model. The report observed a projected prevalence of 9.1 million individuals facing major health conditions by 2040, an alarming 37% increase from 2019.

A key driver of this unsettling trend is the ageing population. As life expectancies rise and medical advancements enable longer lives, the population pyramid is gradually inverting. While this phenomenon is indicative of human progress, it also places a significant burden on healthcare services. However, it is important to note that this issue affects individuals of all ages. The report by The Health Foundation raises an important concern about the surging number of young people living with ill health, citing anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and diabetes as particular areas of concern.

Obesity emerges as one of the key factors driving the escalation of illnesses. Despite considerable strides in reducing smoking rates and cholesterol levels, the obesity epidemic threatens to offset these gains, emphasising the complexity and interconnectedness of health determinants. Moreover, for health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), and lung cancer, the report suggests that around 70% of new cases by 2040 will be caused by a combination of individual-level risk factors, such as obesity and smoking. GlobalData Epidemiologists estimate that across the seven major pharmaceutical markets (7MM) (US, UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and Japan), there will be more than 198,000,000 total prevalent cases of obesity in 2023, with this figure expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 0.70%.

The Health Foundation advocates for a radical reimagining of healthcare delivery—specifically, a shift towards community-based care, rather than the current hospital-centric model. This approach promises to alleviate the pressure on acute hospital facilities by decentralising care and empowering individuals within their communities. Hospitals, which currently bear the brunt of healthcare demands, can channel their resources toward critical cases and specialised interventions. Meanwhile, community health centres can effectively address routine care and monitoring, thereby enhancing the efficiency of the healthcare machinery. However, the transformation of the current healthcare model will come with several challenges. Further research is imperative to better understand how to mitigate these challenges and navigate the logistics of how such a system would be delivered.

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By GlobalData