Government urged to focus on improving health in old age

Peers warn UK could miss target for extra years of health living

21st January 2021 about a 3 minute read
"Research to identify accurate biomarkers of ageing in humans should also be prioritised, to support studies to improve health span." Lords Science and Technology Select Committee

Ill health in old age is a growing problem, and the Government’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge is not on track to achieve its mission of five extra years of healthy living by 2035. 

That was the message from the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee which says urgent action is needed to increase healthy life expectancy and reduce health inequalities in old age.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the issue. 

In a report entitled Ageing: Science, Technology and Healthy Living the Committee says health services should be better coordinated to treat people with multiple age-related illnesses.

Deploy technology

Technology and services need to be deployed more widely to support independent living in old age. 

The Committee calls for more effective public health advice and strategic government interventions to support life-long healthy living. 

Recent scientific discoveries reveal underlying processes of ageing, and the UK could play a leading role in developing treatments to address the root causes of age-related illnesses.

Committee Chair Lord Patel said: “The Committee found that the Government needs to urgently address the key issues of reducing health inequalities, implementing health system reforms and promoting lifestyle changes.

“Furthermore, technologies can be better utilised to help people live independently for longer.”

He called on the Government to “act now” to increase support for the exciting new scientific research that targets the underlying processes of ageing. 

“Treatments are being developed that could improve health without the need to treat multiple separate illnesses.”

Key recommendations

The Committee sets out a range of recommendations across science, technology and health services to improve health in old age:

* The Government, along with NHS England, Public Health England, and other agencies, must prioritise reducing health inequalities. The Committee asks that the Government sets out a plan for reducing health inequalities over the next Parliament.

* All older patients should have a designated clinician. This clinician would have oversight of the patient’s care as a whole, and should coordinate activity across multidisciplinary teams, which should include members from across the health and social care sectors.

* UK Research and Innovation should commit to funding further research into the biological processes underlying ageing as a priority, in particular to address gaps in understanding the relevance of ageing hallmarks to humans. Research to identify accurate biomarkers of ageing in humans should also be prioritised, to support studies to improve health span.

* The Government should ensure the UK remains a global leader in drug research and development. It should work towards making the UK a more attractive environment for growth capital investment, to stop UK innovations moving abroad after the discovery stage of research.

* The Government should implement a concerted and coordinated set of national policies to support healthy ageing, including: regulatory and fiscal measures, actively to encourage people to adopt lifestyles that support healthy ageing; increasing the reach of the NHS Health Check to those in disadvantaged groups who will benefit the most; and working with local authorities on the funding of local services, housing and infrastructure to encourage and facilitate healthier living across the life-course, including the necessary services to maintain health and independence in old age.

* The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—along with the senior responsible officer—should produce a cross-government strategy which clearly states how the Government plans to achieve the Ageing Society Grand Challenge mission by 2035. The strategy should include a roadmap for how the Government intends to achieve the mission, and should specify the departments responsible for working towards the target.