Over 50s concerned about struggles in accessing healthcare, charity says

Millions of people over the age of 50 in the UK have concerns about struggling to access healthcare, according to new analysis by Age UK.

It comes as one elderly and disabled patient admitted he cannot afford to wait on hold to his GP practice for an appointment for long due to rising phone bill costs.

A new report by Age UK – It’s a Struggle to be Seen – analysed the results of a representative poll, conducted for the charity by Kantar, of 2,621 UK adults over 50, as well as its own online survey which attracted more than 17,000 responses.

The report claims less than half (48%) of people over 50 are confident their medical issue would be solved by NHS services.

Some 49% – which Age UK equates to 12.6 million people – were concerned about their ability to access their GP, while 42% were worried about access to hospital appointments.

The same proportion expressed concerns about access to emergency departments, the charity said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Sadly, for some older people, healthcare delayed means healthcare denied, because they do not have time on their side.

“Our new analysis highlights just how many are being subjected to distress and, in some cases, enduring pain, because of their difficulties in accessing the GP services that they need.”

One elderly patient, David – who did not want to disclose his surname, is disabled after suffering what he described as a “very serious stroke” almost 20 years ago.

He is visited by carers four times a day; 6.30am to get up, 12.30pm for lunch, 4.30pm for dinner and between 8pm and 8.30pm for bed.

“They do a very good job in extremely difficult circumstances,” David told the PA news agency.

David admitted he struggles getting GP appointments as he can only stay on hold in the queue for a maximum of 10 minutes due to phone bill costs.

“I cannot afford to stay on the phone,” he added. “The costs just keep going up.

“I feel sorry for the staff, they’ve told me several times ‘we wish we could do more’.”

He has also had to cancel hospital appointments several times because there is no hospital transport available.

David pays for additional support for two hours a week, which includes general cleaning, laundry and changing bed linen. This costs in the region of £45 to £55 per week, he said.

“I do struggle,” he told the PA new agency. “I’m not alone, there are millions, countless others in the exact same situation.

“I try my hardest to forget the situation but sometimes it does come with a jolt to me. Why, why, why? I ask myself this question.”

Despite his situation, David said he does have confidence in NHS services: “Yes I have confidence in them, I know that the staff are struggling.

“The nurses are run off their feet. This concerns me. They can’t carry on in this situation.”

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams want to do the best for our patients, at all stages of their life, and we share their frustration when they struggle to access our services.

“This is not the fault of hardworking GPs and their teams who will always do their best to provide access to safe, timely and appropriate care – it is the consequence of years of underfunding and poor workforce planning, and we need urgent action to turn this around.”

Ms Abrahams added: “We know that GPs are often as frustrated by the current shortfall in resources as their patients, and that many are working their socks off to try to meet a level of need that is greater than it was before the pandemic.

“It is also clear that our older population is less well than before Covid-19 struck, with many older people living with a number of serious long term health problems.”

Age UK is calling for more investment in primary care, GP practices and community services ahead of the General Election.

Ms Abrahams said these measures, “coupled with a re-energised social care system and a local focus on supporting older people to stay well”, would make a big different to quality of life and how hospitals function.

It comes after the main political parties outlined a number of health offerings in their manifestos, including measures aimed at bolstering primary care.

The Conservatives have pledged that there will be 120,000 more doctors and nurses working in the NHS over the next five years.

Earlier this month, the Tories also said it would build 100 new GP surgeries and modernise a further 150 if they win the July 4 vote.

Elsewhere, the Labour Party vowed to create 40,000 more NHS appointments a week to bring down waiting lists, as well as training thousands more GPs and introducing a “modern appointment booking system” to end the 8am scramble for appointments.

An NHS spokesperson said: “While eight out of 10 older people report that they had a positive overall experience of their practice, the NHS is upgrading telephone systems to further improve experience and ensure that GPs can continue delivering record numbers of appointments.

“The NHS Long Workforce Plan commits to increasing the number of GP training places by 50% to help GPs provide further continuity of care for those who need it most, including older people or those with complex health needs.”