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Meeting the challenges of an ageing population – Catherine Thompson

As a nation we’re living longer than ever before.

Our population currently has more than three million people aged over 80 years old. By 2030, this figure is projected to almost double, and by 2050 reach eight million.

Today one-in-six of the population is aged 65 and over, and by 2050 it will be one-in-four.

A man born in the UK in 1981 has an estimated life expectancy at birth of 84 years. But for a baby boy born today, that increases to 89 years, rising to 91 years by 2030. This is an achievement that we can all celebrate.

But with these achievements in longevity, come some significant challenges for the future. We need to ensure we provide high quality health and social care, so that we not only live longer lives, but live longer healthier, active and independent lives.

For a significant number of older people, advancing age is associated with frailty. In medicine this is often defined as a reduction in physical capacity:  a group of older people who are at the highest risk of adverse outcomes such as falls, disability, admission to hospital, or the need for long-term care.

Faced with an ever-increasing ageing population, we need to rethink old age, and move from a reactive approach to managing frailty, to a proactive approach.

NHS England is working in partnership with Age UK to face these challenges head-on, to raise awareness and explore potential solutions. We will be holding two Empowering Older People’s Care Summits over the next few weeks to advance this important debate and facilitate the sharing of good practice, networking and the exchange of ideas.

We are committed to supporting NHS commissioners and providers to deliver the best care possible for older people with frailty, by developing new tools and resources to support this important area of work.  We want to explore what good care might look like for localities and how we can make these aspirations become a reality.

Together, we can evolve our approach to identifying and managing the long term conditions associated with frailty, improve patient experience and empower our older population to live longer and healthier lives.


catherine-thompsonCatherine Thompson is Head of Patient Experience for Acute Services at NHS England and leads on experience of care in acute trusts, ambulance services, cancer services, and services for frail older people.

She previously worked at NHS Improvement as a national improvement lead for acute respiratory services and pulmonary rehabilitation facilitating the implementation of the COPD and Asthma Outcomes Strategy.

Catherine qualified as a physiotherapist in 1996 and pursued a clinical and academic career in acute respiratory medicine and critical care.

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