In the coming years, the NHS is set to undergo a series of sweeping changes and reforms in order to better adjust to an evolving market, economic necessities and developing healthcare needs.
A number of factors will affect the future direction of Britain's health service in various ways, but there are few trends with a potentially greater impact than the gradual ageing of the UK population - a significant demographic change that will have all manner of knock-on effects for healthcare professionals.
In order to prepare properly for the paradigm shift that will inevitably occur, it is important for NHS workers to educate themselves on the reasons behind this issue and examine how the various sectors will be affected.
Why is the population ageing?
The fact that the UK population is growing older on average is, in many ways, a testament to the success and efficiency of the NHS, as well as a validation of the sophisticated medicines and therapy options available to patients in the 21st century.
Access to progressively superior treatments and care quality has greatly extended average life expectancy among both men and women, meaning people today are living much longer than their parents and grandparents.
According to recent research from King's College London, more than 35,000 people lived to 100 years or older in England in the last ten years. In 2011, centenarians globally numbered over 300,000. This number is projected to reach three million worldwide by 2050 and 17 million at the end of the century.
While this is to be welcomed, it creates a host of challenges. The fact that more people are living well into their 60s, 70s and beyond means there are more patients around with chronic health complaints, which require holistic and long-term therapy approaches. Moreover, older people are more likely to be affected by complex problems that cannot be remedied with a single appointment or prescription.
How will this affect NHS workers?
The government is aware of these trends and is taking a number of steps to address them. Among the most high-profile changes it has announced are the recent introduction of new responsibilities for GPs, putting them in charge of organising personalised care plans spanning multiple services for individual patients.
People over the age of 75 in particular will benefit from regularly-reviewed individual care plans and a named GP responsible for their care, as well as same-day access to their doctor when they need it.
This comes as part of a wider shift towards preventative care, with measures such as the NHS Health Checks attempting to ensure patients' health issues are managed proactively and treated before they become a major issue. This will place greater focus on doctors and pharmacists who act as a first point of contact with patients, while easing pressure on accident and emergency teams.
The other key component of these plans will be a gradual transition towards community-based treatment, both in terms of residential care and the sort of services offered by home care staff. Again, this will take the focus away from emergency workers and ensure older people have their conditions managed proactively in a community setting, rather than a hospital environment.
Changes such as these will create new opportunities for NHS professionals in many sectors, ensure the health service operates more efficiently and effectively, and help patients to truly enjoy longer lives in the best possible health.
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