Our ageing population is set to cost healthcare providers a staggering amount in the next 10 years, with a predicated increase of 25% in those who will need care between 2015 and 2025. According to research published by the Lancet Public Health Medical Journal, within eight years, there will be 2.8 million people over 65 needing nursing and social care, unable to cope alone.
This upwards trend in our ageing population is set to continue for many decades, but investment now can drive savings in the future.
What investment in primary care is required?
The most effective cost savings can be made when proactive measures are put in place to improve patient outcomes and slow down or reverse chronic decline. By doing so, older people will put less strain on the acute services treating chronic disease and delay the need for nursing or social care in specialist units.
Overall, around 90% of patient interaction is with primary care – GPs are generally the first port of call for treatment of conditions and ailments. However, in some cases older people are bypassing these services when age-related conditions go unidentified. For example, loss of muscle mass and issues with mobility may result in serious falls that require emergency hospital treatment. Following a health crisis like this, the patient can become increasingly dependent and more susceptible to chronic conditions that require expensive acute services or nursing care.
Investment in primary care creates opportunities to put in place the infrastructure necessary to support patients, by screening for age-related conditions (the markers for more serious and long term problems), before they enter the ‘dependency zone’. Providing therapies in primary care settings is an effective way of delaying these problems, for example by offering cognitive therapies that can delay or even stall the onset of dementia. With this support, older people can continue to live in their homes or in retirement communities for longer, enjoying a better quality of life and overall better health.
While there is immense pressure on GP services, primary care centres with supporting services under one roof – e.g. dental practices, community pharmacies, optometrists, nutritionists, mental health services etc. – can actually help alleviate this pressure. Patients can be easily referred to these services, avoiding trips to hospitals or other providers and awareness of preventative therapies and services will also increase. At the same time, awareness of age related issues also increases, thereby offering an early warning of potential chronic conditions,. Older patients or their families, who might not have thought to tell their GP about issues with mobility, depression, visual or audio impairment etc., may ask for help earlier instead of only seeking treatment when conditions have worsened or there is a health crisis.
Where should investment be made?
A significant barrier to this vision of a holistic primary care service is the existing primary care estate. Many GP practices are in premises that are unfit for purpose, struggling to meet demand for general practice services, let alone accommodate a wider range of services.
However, there are some excellent examples of what primary care could look like. With private investment some GP practices have moved into new, state of the art premises as tenants, with where they have the space to provide more services under one roof. In doing so they have also solved the key problems facing many GP partners of recruitment and the issue of releasing equity when partners wish to retire.
Other primary care centres have used private investment to refurbish and extend existing properties, such as Robin Lane Health and Wellbeing Centre in Pudsey, Leeds. With investment through the MedicX Fund, the property was acquired by Octopus Healthcare and an extensive redevelopment project completed that included an additional eleven consultation and treatment rooms. This outstanding primary care centre is now meeting its goals of providing more services in the community and in turn driving savings in healthcare for the long term.
For more examples of how we’re working with primary care providers, click here.