Diabetes, dementia, drinkers and the first generation in more than 140 years likely to die younger than their parents – a Radstock GP has revealed his fears for the future as he spoke of the health time bomb that is shaping the future of the NHS.
Dr Simon Douglass has spent the past 20 years treating patients at Hope House Surgery.
With more than 80 per cent of all visits for medical assistance first coming through the doors of a GP surgery, Dr Douglass has a better understanding than most about the challenges that face the NHS and medical professionals over the next ten years.
He has become one of a number of GPs who are working together to address the long-term challenges by helping to shape and improve the quality of health services for the whole of the Bath and North East Somerset population.
Dr Douglass has taken on a lead role with the NHS B&NES Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) which will be responsible for the planning and buying of local NHS services from April 2013.
This means that decisions about health care in B&NES will be made by GPs elected from the 28 practices across the district.
Dr Douglass said that maintaining high quality care for patients will be their top priority but said the service faced massive challenges over the next ten years as it tailors its services around the changing needs to the population and shrinking budgets.
The CCG has been asking people to put forward their views about how urgent care is delivered with a consultation on plans to move the GP-led health centre at Riverside Bath to the front entrance to Bath's Royal United Hospital to save money and to stop the duplication of services.
Dr Douglass said one of the driving forces behind the change is an ever ageing population. Within the next 15 years B&NES is expected to see a 40 per cent rise in the number of people living beyond 80, with the Office of National Statistics predicting this number will rise to almost 14,000 by 2026.
Alongside this is dramatic rises in the number of people being treated for Type 2 diabetes – with a seven per cent year on year rise.
He said it is great news that people are living longer but said the services need to be adapted now to prepare for the future.
Dr Douglass said: "As a GP we have a vested interest in making the health service the best it can be for the community.
"It is about trying to look at forward at least five or ten years to shape the health service so it can best provide for the population."
He admitted that challenging pay freeze budgets were also shaping the changes and said it was critical all health service providers and the local authority worked together.
Dr Douglass also voiced concerns about the rise in obesity in children – a problem he expects will hit society hard within the next 20 to 25 years.
He said: "It is a fact that for the first time in 140 years the latest generation is running the risk of living shorter lives."
Dr Douglass said the best way to tackle both diabetes and childhood obesity is to encourage healthy lifestyle choices from an early age with the usual emphasis on more exercise and healthy eating.
For adults he said giving up smoking and drinking much less were also key to improving long-term health prospects.
Drinkers, especially people in their 40s and 50s who are use alcohol to relax as they grapple with stressful lives, were a cause for particular concern said the GP – who said people should think about the amount they are drinking on a regular basis and have at least two days each week completely sober.
He said the problems caused by excessive drinking seen by medical staff can be far ranging from strokes and heart attacks to mental health problems and domestic violence.
Dr Douglass said: "It is much better to do what we can to work with other agencies for better prevention rather than tackling the problems downstream."
He added that medical advances in the past ten years have been "staggering" but admitted this has meant the expectations of patients have also risen.
For more information about local NHS changes visit www.bathandnortheastsomerset ccg.nhs.uk.