UK media has been dominated by Coronavirus, variants, and infection levels for almost 20 months now, pushing many other prevalent health concerns to the background of public awareness. While the pandemic still hasn’t disappeared (and seems to be making an unwelcome comeback), we mustn’t lose sight of the other challenges ahead. Today we’ll evaluate the critical public health issues that continue to require diligent monitoring
Dwindling Care Capacity for an Ageing Population
We’ve heard a lot about the repercussions of over-stretching the NHS, but the pandemic is the latest in a long line of factors that have put enormous strain on social care – in both the private and public healthcare sectors. As the British population changes and people live longer, the demand for later life healthcare is profound.
It’s worth noting that, while the free universal healthcare system is held in esteem globally, Britain lags behind other high-income countries across the spectrum of health outcomes, particularly in life expectancy metrics.
As of 2020, the average life expectancy in the UK (across men and women) is 81.2 years, compared to 82.9 years in Australia – although this figure has grown year on year for the last four decades.
That said, there is no doubt that:
- A long-standing lack of qualified, professional care staff in adult social care has created a void of capacity in care and nursing homes throughout the UK.
- Access to assisted living facilities and outreach care support is dependent on your budget, whether you have private home carers nearby, and the services available through local NHS provision.
- Care standards are inevitably affected when staff to patient ratios slip or older people with additional needs cannot find space within a suitable facility with the appropriate resources to meet their physical, emotional and mental health requirements.
There are seeds of change, with companies such as OUTT revamping the conventional social care agency model, which has proven time and again to be ineffective.
However, any strategies implemented to improve long-term health cannot ignore the growing proportion of society that will, sooner or later, put further pressure on the overburdened care system.
The Leading Health Conditions and Causes of Death in the UK
The government’s immediate priority is dealing with the ramifications of the Coronavirus pandemic, mitigating wider and long-term consequences such as:
- Long COVID symptoms, where sufferers continue to experience health compromises over many months.
- Economic factors, including a lack of taxation income and recouping the funds required to finance vaccination programs and business support schemes.
- Huge backlogs of surgeries, treatments, and consultations as the NHS defers swathes of appointments to make way for COVID-related services.
While fatalities linked to Coronavirus reached just under 50,000 in July 2021 (per the government published figures), deaths associated with other conditions have claimed far higher numbers over recent years.
The most recent ONS statistics from 2018 indicate that the leading causes of UK death were dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, making up 12.7% of all fatalities.
Referring back to our previous points about the age of the population, increasing life expectancies, and the national care shortage – it’s hard to argue that care capacity isn’t a contributing factor to these later-life conditions, having been the most prevalent cause of death since 2011 (pandemic notwithstanding).
In 2020, approximately 25% of COVID deaths (18,420) presented with co-morbidities, including dementia or Alzheimer’s, and accounted for 14.5% of all deaths recorded in Britain.
Therefore, when (or if) the pandemic subsides, there remains an issue around the vulnerability of individuals with dementia or related conditions since deaths are substantially increased when combined with viral infections.
Secondary Causes of UK Deaths
Other conditions that remain a significant concern include:
- Breast and lung cancers, responsible for 10.1% of deaths in women between 50 and 64 in 2008.
- Suicide (intentional or accidental) was the primary cause of death in all genders between 20 and 34 from 2001 to 2018. Suicide accounts for 27.1% of male deaths and 16.7% of females.
- Heart diseases have decreased over time but remain the leading cause of male deaths across all age groups
It’s essential to focus on COVID-19 in the immediate short-term, as the risk of severe illness or transmission to medically vulnerable people is considerable.
However, the well-reported mental health impacts, decline in exercise and uptick in unhealthy eating habits will undoubtedly inflate these figures over the years ahead.
Predictions estimate that 10 million people will require new or additional mental health support due to the pandemic and the impacts on their lives, health or income.
As non-COVID services are again scaled back or temporarily removed altogether, this means longer waiting times, less prompt diagnosis, and extended waiting lists for treatments, exacerbating the already massive 2020 backlog that isn’t close to reaching an end.
Around 162,000 people have experienced waiting times over 52 weeks, which is far behind the 18-week standard for elective care, and it will take years to claw back the time lost.
During those years, it is probable that statistics related to deaths caused by mental health conditions, heart disease and treatable cancers will increase.
NHS Healthcare Service Postcode Lotteries
Finally, it’s important to remember that life-threatening conditions are just one of the many puzzle pieces contributing to overall wellness. Preventable illnesses, optical care and dental services are all equally vital to delivering consistent provision across the UK, yet inequalities persist at alarming rat Issues such as staff isolation have a tangible effect on how well the NHS can care for patients, including those without a COVID-19 infection.
Care homes and domiciliary care services are equally affected. This weakness in the robustness of social care and public health provision means that some patients cannot access even basic support, such as:
- Early years interventions and diagnoses.
- Occupational health services.
- Home visits and care assessments.
- Appointments to address potential cancers.
Many ancillary services, such as optical care, are means-tested. Children, full-time students and those over 60 are entitled to free NHS eye tests, and those under 20 and financially dependent on a benefits recipient can also receive free care.
However, the majority of adults, regardless of income, need to pay a private optician for tests, glasses and other sight-related treatments that fall outside of the scope of their local NHS Trust.
That means that those on low incomes, with a lack of access to mainstream services, or reluctant to ask for help may live with increasingly poor sight, without any care whatsoever.
Similar disparities exist in dental care, and serious dental and oral health problems may also be untreated and undiagnosed if a person cannot find a local dentist accepting NHS patients or experiences socioeconomic or geographical disadvantages.
These factors are equally vital to addressing the long-term health needs of the nation since poor health in any aspect can contribute to reduced opportunity and life limitations.
As we look forward to a post-pandemic Britain, addressing education, health equality, social care capacity, and proactive preventative treatments will become increasingly essential since all of the health issues we’ve mentioned aren’t going anywhere – pandemic or not.
Outt.co.uk is a social care recruitment market disruptor, launching from the COVID-19 pandemic to transform how care homes and employers recruit, retain, and pay agency staff.
Backed by an InnovateUK government award for innovation, and a hugely successful crowdfunding raise, the fully digital recruitment app is set to expand UK-wide in 2022.
Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s).
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