According to some interpretations of the Mayan long count calendar, tomorrow – December 21st 2012 – will see the end of the world. If the apocalypse does happen then none of us, I’m afraid, will get to know how accurate the predictions contained in Future Trends might otherwise have been.
I came across this report earlier today via a link tweeted by @TheKingsFund. It’s part of the organisation’s new Time to Think Differently programme, and sets out ‘the significant trends and drivers that we [The King’s Fund] believe will affect health and social care services over the next 20 years’. Properly speaking this is all about the outlook for England, though I think Future Trends offers plenty of food for thought for those of us in other parts of the UK, too.
The document addresses issues across a number of areas: demographic change, health-related behaviours, disease and disability, the workforce, attitudes and expectations, determinants of health, medical advances, information technology, sustainability and economic pressures. Future Trends also has some important, specific, things to say about mental health and illness and about services in this area. One is to restate the connections between mental and physical health. As The King’s Fund says, poor physical health is associated with poor mental health and vice versa. Future Trends also points to the existence of significant unmet mental health need, and to the fact that demand for services can be expected to rise at times (like now) of economic downturn. Elsewhere there are sections dealing with the workforce, and the risk of a growing ‘care gap’ as sources of informal care diminish. Changing patterns of disease are likely to increase demand for home (rather than hospital) care, and for new types of worker able to cross traditional professional boundaries.
To my mind the broad picture Future Trends paints is an entirely plausible, and simultaneously challenging, one. More plausible, certainly, than predictions of an imminent end to the world. I think we might want to start thinking, sooner rather than later, about how we improve the physical well-being of people using mental health services. We should consider what the rise of chronic conditions means for education and training, and how to better meet need.