One in five adults in England will be living with major diseases by 2040, say researchers

More than nine million people in England will be living with a major illness by 2040 – placing “additional demand” on the NHS and having “significant implications” for other public services, a report has warned.

The number of adults with conditions such as cancer, diabetes and kidney disease will rise by 2.5 million – an increase of 37% compared with 2019 figures, researchers said.

The analysis was part of a four-year project led by the Health Foundation’s Real Centre in partnership with the University of Liverpool, focusing on ill health in the adult population.

Researchers believe “managing these pressures is achievable with careful planning” and the “challenge of an ageing population” was an issue faced “across the globe”.

The number of people living with major disease in just over 15 years will reach 9.1 million, from almost one in six of the adult population in 2019 to nearly one in five.

Some 80% of the 2.5 million increase will be in people aged 70 or over as the “baby boomers reach old age and life expectancy increases”.

Cases of dementia are expected to rise 45% by 2040, heart failure by 92%, cancer by 31%, diabetes by 49%, chronic pain by 32% and anxiety or depression by 16%.

At the age of 70, people will have an average of three long-term conditions, rising to more than five by the age of 85, researchers said.

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Improvements in some of the main causes of poor health – such as less people smoking – will be “offset by the impact” of obesity as people who have been obese for long periods reach old age.

Director of the Real Centre, Anita Charlesworth, said: “The challenge of an ageing population with rising levels of major illness is not unique to the NHS.

“Countries across the globe face the same pressures. How well prepared we are to meet the challenge is what will set us apart.

“Over the next two decades, the growth in major illness will place additional demand on all parts of the NHS, particularly primary care, where services are already under extreme pressure.

“But with one in five people projected to be living with major illness in less than two decades’ time, the impact will extend well beyond the health service and have significant implications for other public services, the labour market and the public finances.”

Lead economist at the Real Centre, Toby Watt, added: “It is crucial to emphasise that these are projections, not forecasts, which are designed to support policymakers in preparing for the future.

“The rise in people living with major illness will not occur overnight.

“Managing these pressures is achievable with careful planning, investment and changes in how care is delivered.”

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