Current estimates suggest that approximately 75% of people approaching the end-of-life may benefit from palliative care. The growing numbers of older people and increasing prevalence of chronic illness in many countries mean that more people may benefit from palliative care in the future, but this has not been quantified. The present study aims to estimate future population palliative care need in two high-income countries.
We used mortality statistics for England and Wales from 2006 to 2014. Building on previous diagnosis-based approaches, we calculated age- and sex-specific proportions of deaths from defined chronic progressive illnesses to estimate the prevalence of palliative care need in the population. We calculated annual change over the 9-year period. Using explicit assumptions about change in disease prevalence over time, and official mortality forecasts, we modelled palliative care need up to 2040. We also undertook separate projections for dementia, cancer and organ failure.
By 2040, annual deaths in England and Wales are projected to rise by 25.4% (from 501,424 in 2014 to 628,659). If age- and sex-specific proportions with palliative care needs remain the same as in 2014, the number of people requiring palliative care will grow by 25.0% (from 375,398 to 469,305 people/year). However, if the upward trend observed from 2006 to 2014 continues, the increase will be of 42.4% (161,842 more people/year, total 537,240). In addition, disease-specific projections show that dementia (increase from 59,199 to 219,409 deaths/year by 2040) and cancer (increase from 143,638 to 208,636 deaths by 2040) will be the main drivers of increased need.
If recent mortality trends continue, 160,000 more people in England and Wales will need palliative care by 2040. Healthcare systems must now start to adapt to the age-related growth in deaths from chronic illness, by focusing on integration and boosting of palliative care across health and social care disciplines. Countries with similar demographic and disease changes will likely experience comparable rises in need.