When a patient suffers two or more chronic medical conditions it is known as ‘multimorbidity’ and, unfortunately, it is fast becoming the norm, not the exception, in the UK.
Furthermore, there is an alarming lack of information about multimorbidity and people are dying prematurely because of ineffective treatments, according to a new report.
The report by The Academy of Medical Sciences warns that the “global burden of multiple serious illnesses must be urgently addressed” as increasing numbers of individuals worldwide are suffering from multiple health conditions.
However, while multimorbidity is thought to be widespread and on the rise, the actual extent of the problem remains unknown, with estimates of affected people ranging from 13% to 95% globally. Moreover, both the causes of multimorbidity and strategies for reducing it are lacking.
Compiled by a group of 17 international health experts, the report is the first of its kind to address the problem of multimorbidity on a global scale, highlighting how a lack of evidence is hindering the guidance of health policy and medical practice.
The report details how most health services, including the NHS, are simply not designed to cope with the challenges posed by multimorbidity. As a result, such health systems are being stretched in terms of both expertise and budget. The report concludes by saying that unless a better understanding of multimorbidity is obtained, no country can effectively plan future healthcare resources and redesign services accordingly.
Multimorbidity is the biggest challenge facing the NHS
In November 2016, the NHS wrote about the issue of multimorbidity on its blog. At the time, the health service said around one in four people had two or more long-term conditions and that this figure rose to two-thirds in people aged 65 years or over.
As the NHS blog post explains, multimorbidity is “complicated because different conditions and their treatments often interact in complex ways”. However, the delivery of care for patients with multimorbidity still tends to focus on the individual conditions, rather than the person as a whole.
The problem with this approach is that it can lead to care being fragmented and can neglect to consider the “combined impact of the conditions and their treatments on a person’s quality of life”.
Professor Stephen MacMahon, chair of the Academy of Medical Sciences multimorbidity working group, said that tens of millions of people in the UK suffer from multiple chronic conditions and this number could be a billion globally.
“This report should be the tipping point of recognising that multi-morbidity is an enormous threat to global health,” he said. “It is a priority to get the evidence we need to develop effective strategies for prevention and treatment.”
The study by The Academy of Medical Sciences also found that physical and mental health conditions often cluster together. People with poor mental health can often have a lower quality of life than individuals with multiple physical illnesses.[Related reading: Half Of UK Adults Still Uncomfortable Or Unsure Talking About Mental Health Issues]
It is startling to think that multimorbidity is fast becoming the norm, not the exception, in the UK, especially when so little is still known about it.
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