A new report released by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Integrated Healthcare (PGIH) warns that the growing number of people suffering from long-term illness poses significant threats to the future sustainability of the NHS.
The report, titled ‘Integrated healthcare: putting the pieces together’, is based on the findings of an extensive consultation carried out by the PGIH in 2017, to which a detailed response was submitted by the FHT. It urges the government to embrace complementary, traditional and natural medicine to ease the mounting burden being placed on the NHS.
The report stresses that the rising costs to the health system require a more person-centred approach to health delivery, which focuses on prevention and tackles the root cause of illness.
It highlights that many more patients now suffer from multi-morbidity (two or more long-term health conditions) than when the NHS was formed 70 years ago, with the number of people in England with one or more long-term condition projected to increase to around 18 million by 2025.
Furthermore, it is estimated that 70% of total health expenditure on health and care in England is associated with treating 30% of the population with one or more long-term condition.
A further consequence of complex health conditions is the growing problem of polypharmacy, where several drugs are used at the same time. The report stresses that this is arguably one of the biggest threats to the future economic viability of the NHS, with increasing costs of pharmaceutical drugs needed to treat patients with multiple illnesses, coupled with largely unknown effects of the long-term use of these drugs in combination.
The PGIH report argues that the government needs to devise a strategy to fully assess the degree of drug interactions, determine the long-term health effects on patients, and arrest the trend of over medicating the population.
A significant part of this strategy would be to treat each patient as a whole person, with individual needs, rather than treating any presenting illnesses separately. As such, the report recommends that the strategy should make greater use of natural, traditional and complementary therapies, which are widely used to support people affected by a variety of conditions. It also highlights the huge under-utilised resource of professional therapists, who could work in collaboration with conventional medicine to improve patient outcomes and ease the burden on the NHS.
Modern medicine has been very effective in tackling many of the health conditions we face today. However, there are areas, often called effectiveness gaps (EGs), where available treatments in modern clinical practice are not fully effective, with the likes of depression, eczema, allergies, chronic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome being frequently cited.
The report urges that for these types of conditions, a different approach is needed, which does not involve giving more and more costly but potentially ineffective drugs.
David Tredinnick MP, Chair of the PGIH, insisted that the current approach being taken by the government is unsustainable for the long-term future of the country.
‘Despite positive signs that ministers are proving open to change, words must translate into reality. For some time our treasured NHS has faced threats to its financial sustainability and to common trust in the system.
‘Multi-morbidity is more apparent now in the UK than at any time in our recent history. As a trend it threatens to swamp a struggling NHS, but the good news is that many self-limiting conditions can be treated at home with the most minimal of expert intervention.
‘Other European governments facing similar challenges have considered the benefits of exploring complementary, traditional and natural medicines. If we are to hand on our most invaluable institution to future generations, so should we.’