Scotland is facing a demographic time bomb as demands for housing, health and social care becomes “unsustainable” in the years ahead, MSPs have been warned.
The country already spends £4.5 billion on health and social care, but this will have to rise by £1.1bn a year by 2016 to keep pace with the changing population.
Opposition parties are now calling for immediate government action to alleviate the looming problem in the coming years.
Local authorities and health boards have submitted evidence to Holyrood’s finance committee as part of a debate on how Scotland can better prepare for demographic challenges.
Scotland’s population aged 65 and over is estimated to increase by 21 per cent between 2006 and 2016, and by 62 per cent by 2031. The rise will be 38 per cent and 144 per cent respectively in the population aged 85 and over.
“Continuing with traditional service models is unsustainable over the longer term,” a submission from the Beild, Hanover and Trust housing associations states.
“The Scottish Government already spends £4.5bn on health and social care for people aged over 65.”
More than half of this is spent on institutional care and maintaining this level would require annual increases of about £1.1 bn. Under current economic constraints, this is unrealistic,” the report adds.
The committee is also warned that twice the number of hospital beds will be needed over the next two decades to cope with Scotland’s ageing population.
Health boards have also said focus on preventative measures and early years’ care will suffer as a result of more money being spent on caring for the elderly. The City of Edinburgh Council said that while extra Scottish Government cash through the Change Fund would go some way to helping cope, the money was “very unlikely to address it in full, let alone reverse it”.
It adds: “Investment in prevention on the scale required can only be funded by ceasing or reducing some existing services. These are difficult choices that call for greater political and public debate.”
Edinburgh’s population has accelerated over the past decade, with 2011 showing the biggest annual increase ever recorded.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland’s largest health board, warned “immediate pressures of demographic change will make it difficult to fund and support other priority areas with longer term benefit” and that preventative spend and early years’ intervention would be the areas to suffer.
Bosses there said that the area’s ageing population meant “it is unlikely we can realise aspirations to shift resource to preventative spend and early years”.
And NHS Ayrshire and Arran added if hospitals continue to admit people aged 75 and over at current rates, “we will need twice as many hospital beds in 20 years’ time”.
Scottish Conservative health spokesman and deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “Warnings about demographic challenges from those on our front line seem to be becoming more grave by the month.
“There is a massive train coming down the tracks and our health services are not ready for it.
“If something isn’t done, we will be left in a situation where our NHS boards are only firefighting, meaning funding will be taken away from all kinds of important challenges.
“The Scottish Government needs to act now to alleviate this pressure in future years. Hospitals are already running under extremely strained circum-stances.”