Health in an ageing society: what does the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report mean to our sector?

16 November 2023

Last week (10 November) the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, launched his annual report: Health in an Ageing Society.

Dena Dalton, Head of Health Collaboration at Community First Yorkshire, shares her thoughts and response to the report below:

Why is this report relevant to the VCSE sector? Why should people read it?

The aim of the report is to concentrate on issues looking at improving the quality of life in an adult’s later years. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Sir Chris Whitty, states that improving the quality of life can broadly be divided into two key approaches: 1) things which reduce disability and ill health, and 2) things which can be done to adapt the environment to allow an individual (with a set amount of disability) in older age to live as independent and enjoyable a life as possible.

The report states that the expansion of longer periods of older age living with disease and disability are not inevitable and that compression of morbidity so that people spend less time living with ill health is entirely realistic and, as such, should be a major aim of policy and medical practice.

Very often, our sector is closest to communities

This is why this report is so relevant to the VCSE sector. Charities, voluntary organisations and community groups are closest to older adults due to the communities they work within and the relationships they hold within those. By 2043, it is estimated that 33% of the demographic of North Yorkshire will be over 65 years with many living in rural and coastal areas, where there is less access to health and care services.

The VCSE sector is ideally placed in supporting the prevention of onset of disability and disease through the range of person-centred services, activities and interventions they provide. The CMO identifies the concern around the rise in mental health conditions in older age and key to improving an overall quality of life in people’s later years, there needs to be a renewed focus on mental health improvement interventions. We know that contributory factors to poor mental health include social isolation, reduced mobility and declining physical health and we also know that interventions that help to address these factors are already in evidence in village halls, community hubs and within organisations themselves – all designed, developed and delivered by the sector.

Familiarise yourself with the report. Little of it will be a surprise, yet being able to amplify the evidence and messages that arise from it will help to influence the change that is needed to shift the dial to a prevention focus so that adding life to years becomes the reality.

Is there anything else we think should have been considered for the sector in the report?

There is actually little consideration for the valuable role that the VCSE sector contributes in enabling older adults to spend less time living with ill-health. It is a report very much focussed on the medical profession, social care and central and local government. It misses an opportunity to look more holistically on prevention and, instead, tends to look through a more medicalised lens. Social care is mentioned, yet we must ensure partners separate out social care from the VCSE sector and there is clarity about the differences between the two.

What are the next steps? For the sector? And what could the Government be doing next?

Prevention! Prevention! Prevention!

The Government’s dial needs to be left-shifted and resource focussed into community services and interventions. Bold and ambitious funding decisions need to be made and acceptance that outcomes will follow, yet will take time.

The sector needs to demonstrate and communicate more effectively the impact they are having within their communities and align that impact with wider system priorities. It is almost impossible to measure something that didn’t occur (i.e. declining physical and mental health), yet what can be measured is the impact that the intervention is having on an individual (e.g. Rockwood Frailty Scale, wellbeing scales etc). The VCSE sector is already delivering many prevention interventions, yet cannot do more without adequate resource investment.

In order to carry out the recommendations within the report, the sector needs to ensure it works effectively with system partners. This is the aim of integrated care systems, yet we need to ensure that the VCSE sector is seen and treated as an equitable partner. We need to ensure that in our interactions with health partners we are referencing the report. If not, there is the real risk that many of the recommendations made within the report will not become a reality.


If you’d like to have further discussions with Dena about her insights on the report, do get in touch by email: