Older people exercising
The report argues that more targeted public health advice is needed about making healthy interventions early and throughout life.

Urgent action is needed to increase healthy life expectancy and reduce health inequalities in old age, according to a report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

The report, Ageing: Science, Technology and Health Living explains that while life span has increased over recent decades, more action is needed to increase the number of years that people spend in good health in old age.

One of the report’s key recommendations was to place the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) and Integrated Community Equipment Services (ICES) budgets into the same funding pot to ensure the needs of those with mobility issues are serviced better with equipment provision and minor adaptations.

As the report explains, where technologies are provided by a local authority, it uses its ICES fund, which is often used in conjunction with the DFG for housing adaptations. Coordination between funding streams was identified in the report as being an issue affecting uptake.

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At present, the DFG – but not the ICES – is part of the ‘Better Care Fund’, which brings together budgets from health, social care and housing to enable “the NHS and local authorities [to] work together, as equal partners, with shared objectives.”

The committee is asking the UK Government to set out a clear plan for reducing health inequalities over the next Parliament and to play a leading role in developing treatments to address the root causes of age-related illnesses.

Healthy living messages are failing to have the necessary impact, so the report argues for more targeted public health advice, including making interventions early and throughout life.

The report finds that COVID-19 has further highlighted health inequalities, showing how poor health makes people more vulnerable to further health risks.

People are increasingly living with more than one condition, the report states, and the current health system was not designed to cope with this situation. Care pathways are not well coordinated or integrated for older people, particularly those with multi-morbidity.

The report recommends assigning each older person a designated clinician who will have oversight of the patient’s care as a whole and who can coordinate across multi-disciplinary teams.

It also suggests that the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority) should ensure that older people are more frequently included in clinical trials and show greater willingness to approve trials which target multiple conditions.

There are promising advances in drug development and new technologies, the report discusses, with new medications and drug repurposing bringing the potential to delay the onset of age-related diseases. These should prioritise disadvantaged groups in order to bring the greatest health benefits.

The committee recommends that the government ensures the UK remains a global leader in drug research and development and that UK Research and Innovation commits to funding further research into the biological processes underlying ageing. Research to identify accurate biomarkers of ageing in humans should also be prioritised.

The report finds that the government’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge target of ensuring people have five extra healthy years of life by 2035 will not be met.

At current rates of progress, an extra five healthy years for men will take 75 years to achieve. Even longer for women, as expectations are currently going backwards.

The committee recommends that the government produces a roadmap on how to achieve the target and report annually to Parliament on progress.

David Sinclair, Director of the International Longevity Centre – UK, said that as global leaders in health and technology, the UK Government must drive and better support innovations in order to deliver a longevity dividend.

“COVID-19 has highlighted the inequalities in ageing. Too many of us are ageing badly,” he said.

“The Government’s aim to deliver five extra healthy years of life by 2035 is laudable and exciting but completely unachievable without major policy change. We need a major focus on preventative health not just nice policy words.

“It’s time to wake up to ageing. Let’s hope when we wake up it isn’t to six more weeks of winter but instead to a concerted effort from Government to address the challenges raised by the committee.”

 

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