Britain's health care services straining 'at the seams,' regulator warns

More older patients, many with dementia, are placing huge pressure on health services. Credit: PA

Britain’s health care services are "struggling to cope with 21st century problems" and straining “at the seams,” according to a report published on Tuesday by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The document reveals a “precarious” public health system beleaguered by fewer staff and more patients, particularly those with preventable illnesses linked to unhealthy lifestyle choices.

As a result, the regulator said services are at a tipping point with health care quality likely to deteriorate, while social care across Britain is in desperate need of funding.

Fewer bed are available for patients, the document said, and waiting times for treatments have risen.

The report also highlighted how demands on the NHS are changing, with more older patients, many with dementia, placing a huge pressure on services.

"The NHS was created in the middle of the 20th century when the big issues it was attempting to deal with were diseases like TB and polio," said Sir David Behan, chief executive of CQC.

"Today, the NHS and social care are dealing with obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancers, dementia. All of which are driven less by those diseases of the middle of the last century and more by lifestyle choices.

"Our healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with our life expectancy and it is that which is driving the demand,” he continued. "We are living longer but are not living healthier so I think what we are signaling is that the system now and into the future has got to deal with those increased numbers of older people who are going to have more than one condition."

The report said the current quality of service has not fallen from last year thanks to efforts by hospital staff and care workers, but it warned quality will likely deteriorate in the future, which could compromise the safety of patients.

The number of vacancies across the NHS increased by 16% between March 2015 to March 2017, the report said, while the number of full-time GPs per 100,000 dropped from 67 to 62 between 2014 and 2016.

In social care, the report highlighted how cutbacks in local authority funding had led to fewer nursing homes, leaving social care in a precarious position with no long term solution.

“As people's health and care needs change and become more complex, a model of care designed for the 20th century is at full stretch and struggling to cope with 21st-century problems,” said Sir David.

"The impact of this on people is particularly evident where sectors come together - or fail to come together as the complex patchwork of health and social care strains at the seams.”