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Royal College of Physicians warns the NHS ‘woefully unprepared’ for a rapidly ageing population

Posted: 15/03/2022

A recent analysis by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) shows that there is only one full time doctor specialising in elderly care, or ‘geriatrician’, for every 8,031 people over 65 in England. The extent of the disparity varies regionally. In the East Midlands, there is only one full time geriatrician for every 12,561 over-65s, whereas in central and north-east London, the figure is one for every 3,254.

The RCP points out that our population is ageing rapidly. The Office of National Statistics estimates that, by 2040, there will be over 17 million people in the UK aged over 65. This means that, in the not too distant future, 24% of the population may require geriatric care. However, the RCP has calculated that 48% of consultant geriatricians in England are due to retire within the next 10 years – and many of these doctors may soon need elderly care themselves.

The RCP therefore considers that the NHS is ‘woefully unprepared’ to cope with the likely increase in the number of elderly patients requiring care in the coming years. It warns that a combination of our rapidly ageing population and what is seen as a lack of NHS workforce planning - geriatric care being only one example - means that ‘we are sleepwalking into an avoidable crisis of care for older people.’

Dr Jennifer Burns, president of the British Geriatrics Society, said: “These figures show very clearly the current nationwide shortage of geriatricians – a situation that will only get worse with the predictable rise in the numbers of older people across the UK needing healthcare.”

Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the Penningtons Manches Cooper clinical negligence team, and a member of the elderly care specialist sub-group, comments: “We continue to be shocked and saddened by the number of clinical negligence claims we handle where the patient is elderly and the injury suffered is linked to the standard of geriatric care. Where staffing levels are under strain there is always a risk that the standard of care is not what it should be. Elderly patients are particularly vulnerable, so it is vital that as our population ages the provision of geriatric care keeps pace with the likely number of elderly patients.”

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