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Study suggests an ageing population should not be seen as an extreme burden on healthcare systems

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A 70-year-old today is using less hospital admission than a 70-year-old five or ten years ago.
- Barry McCormick, Director, Centre for Health Economics and Organisation, University of Oxford.

The UK’s ageing population is putting less pressure on hospital emergency departments than commonly thought, according to new research funded by the Department of Health.

Researchers in the Centre for Health Service Economics and Organisation found that people born each year from 1912 were increasingly less likely to need emergency treatment, and spent shorter periods in hospital once they were admitted.

Speaking in The Times, Barry McCormick, CHSEO Director, said that the ageing population should not be seen as an extreme burden on Emergency Care in NHS hospitals.

The consequences for emergency admissions of the larger over 65 population is cancelled by ‘cohort effects’ of lower probabilities of admission at each age. Rising emergency admissions is best thought of as the increasing tendency over time of patients to demand emergency services, and clinicians with gradually improved techniques and until recently, more resources, to admit.

Hospital beds days occupied by persons over 65 fell by 9-10% in the decade to 2012/13, despite the larger numbers of older persons. However, within the over 65 group, bed days fell sharply for those 65-84, and increased for those over 84.

“The perception that elderly people are placing an increasing burden on the hospital system needs to be moderated by a realisation that at each age people are a little bit healthier than they were in previous years and less demanding of hospital admission. A 70-year-old today is using less hospital admission than a 70-year-old five or ten years ago.”

Reductions in smoking, healthier diets, vaccination programmes earlier in life and preventative drugs such as statins are being attributed to the change. However, high levels of obesity among the young and drinking in middle age mean this trend may not continue.

The study Understanding Emergency Hospital Admissions of Older People’ aims to gain an understanding of the rise in emergency hospital admissions for older people between 2001/02 – 2012/13 and formulate evidence-based scenarios for possible future trends in older emergency admissions in England.

CHSEO is part of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford.

Read the full article in The Times.

Download ‘Understanding Emergency Hospital Admissions of Older People’.

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