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What are the challenges for the future of healthcare in the UK?

13 March 2017

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Reported by Makoto Takahashi, ESRC-funded Policy Intern (January - April 2017)

The 2017 CSaP Annual Lecture was delivered by Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health, who made his predictions about the future of health in the UK.

Professor Whitty began by observing that today's research is unlikely to have an impact upon public health within 15 years. So in commissioning and conducting new research, the medical community must try to anticipate the needs of tomorrow. Drawing on data detailing current trends in demography, health, and demand for health-services, Professor Whitty made his personal predictions about what these demands might be.

In his wide-ranging talk, Professor Whitty consistently pushed beyond familiar generalisations to identify specific challenges for the future of healthcare. The UK will not just age, he argued: it will age unevenly. The cities will remain young while older people will concentrate in rural areas, creating a geography of ageing that will pose new problems for the provision of health services.

And although the UK is aging, it is doing so more slowly than its neighbours. In 1950, the nation was among the oldest in Europe. By 2030, it is expected to be among the youngest. The rising demand for healthcare in Continental Europe is just one factor that will affect the migration of doctors, nurses and care-workers to the UK.


“Chris Whitty’s lecture was very stimulating. Among the highlights was learning about the contribution of UK science to the huge drop in rates of malaria. And another was the emphasis on knowing about patients’ priorities for research, which may be very different from those of researchers and even clinicians.”

Professor Mary Dixon-Woods, RAND Professor of Health Services Research, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge


Perhaps the greatest challenge for the UK of 2035 will be promoting and maintaining wellbeing in an aging population. Medical research has made significant contributions to raising the UK's life expectancy. But for every two years of life we gain, we gain just one year of quality life. Consequently, the proportion of our lives spent in disability is rising; as is the proportion of the population suffering from multimorbidity. The lecture emphasised the importance of listening to patients' concerns in making new efforts to meet these demands.

Hosted at the Old Divinity School, St John's College on 8 February 2017, the lecture was attended by an audience of more than 170 academic experts, policy practitioners and members of the general public.


"The CSaP annual lecture this year provided a thought-provoking opportunity to engage with Professor Christopher Whitty, who has earned a reputation for being one of the most effective Chief Scientific Advisers in government."

Professor Theresa Marteau, Director of the Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU), Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge


The CSaP Annual Lecture was organised in partnership with the Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Professor Dame Theresa Marteau

Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge

Professor Christopher Whitty

Department of Health and Social Care