How can we live longer in better health?
Newcastle experts contribute to House of Lords report on healthy ageing and make recommendations for improvements.
Today (Friday 15th January 2021), the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has published a report which warns that the Government “must act now” if the “Ageing Society Grand Challenge” target of ensuring people have five extra healthy years of life by 2035 is to be met.
NIHR Newcastle BRC Director Professor Avan Sayer and BRC Ageing Syndromes Deputy Theme Lead Miles Witham gave evidence as part of the in-depth inquiry into healthy ageing, which heard from a broad range of experts from academia, health and social care, private industry and charities.
The Committee found that science has potential to enable healthy ageing, benefiting the individual, the NHS and society, and that the UK is a global leader in drug development and new technologies that are making promising advances. However action is needed to deliver impact. It noted the stark inequalities in healthy life expectancy, something that COVID-19 has highlighted further. One of its recommendations was that major UK research funders including UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), commit to working more closely to ensure rapid translation of ageing research into clinical benefit.
Ageing in Newcastle
A key strength of ageing research in Newcastle is its breadth: from discovery science, experimental medicine and clinical trials through to understanding health inequalities at the population level.
The city is host to the NIHR Newcastle Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) which is the only BRC in England to focus on ageing and long-term conditions. The NIHR Newcastle BRC is a partnership between Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University, bringing together healthcare and research in order to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of some of the most common and challenging age-related conditions.
Professor Avan Sayer commented:
“As someone who spans both the clinical and research worlds, I was honoured to contribute to the House of Lords Committee’s inquiry on healthy ageing, and share insights from the pioneering work we do in Newcastle. The Report highlights a number of important areas but delivery on its key recommendations will require collaboration from interdisciplinary groups. This is something we have been working hard to embed within Newcastle and the wider North East region. Our focus is to improve lives through research and it is essential that we work together to do this”.
The NIHR Newcastle BRC focusses on ‘translational’ research; using the synergy inherent in the clinical and academic partnership between the Trust and University. Put simply: research theme leads in the NIHR Newcastle BRC direct their research activity towards challenges they see in their clinical roles, which in turn, means their patients are receiving care that is directly informed by their latest research findings.
Professor Miles Witham’s research at the NIHR Newcastle BRC is an example of this:
“Much of my research aims to test new treatments to improve the health of older people through clinical trials. Doing a few of these trials is not enough though – we need to go a step further and make sure we design many more studies that are right for older people with multiple health conditions. As the report underlines, these are people who have often been excluded from trials in the past, either due to upper age limits or because research has focused on a narrow, single medical problem. However, if research for a healthier later life only involves people aged 60 and below, this is not representative of the majority of people in hospitals with multiple long-term conditions, and I am pleased to see the report highlighted this”.
The Report also recognised the issue of health inequalities that have been intensified by COVID-19, with those living with underlying conditions even more vulnerable to further health risks. Professor Sayer adds:
“The Report reflects our concerns about health inequalities and the challenges they bring. Working with patients in the North-East, we are only too aware of the major differences in healthy life expectancy that exist between the North and South of England.”
As the Report warns, action is needed quickly in order to face current and growing challenges particularly in the area of multimorbidity, the co-occurrence two or more long-term conditions, which is becoming increasingly common, particularly at older ages. Understanding the burden and causes of multiple long-term conditions as well as developing approaches to improving care will be a particular focus for the NIHR Newcastle BRC going forward.