Objective: To describe, using data from the Newcastle 85+ cohort study, the use of primary care and other healthcare services by 85-year-olds as they age.
Design: Longitudinal population-based cohort study.
Setting: Newcastle on Tyne and North Tyneside, UK.
Participants: Community dwelling and institutionalised men and women recruited through general practices (n=845, 319 men and 526 women).
Results: Contact was established with 97% (n=1409⁄1459) of eligible 85-year-olds, consent obtained from 74% (n=1042⁄1409) and 851 agreed to undergo the multidimensional health assessment and a general practice medical records review. A total of 845 participants had complete data at baseline for this study (319 male, 526 female), with 344 (118 male, 226 female) reinterviewed at 60 months. After adjusting for confounders, all consultations significantly increased over the 5 years (incidence rate ratio, IRR=1.03, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.05, P=0.001) as did general practitioner (GP) consultations (IRR=1.03, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.05, P=0.006). Significant increases were also observed in inpatient and day hospital use over time, though these disappeared after adjustment for confounders.
Conclusions: Our study of primary, secondary and community care use by the very old reveals that, between the ages of 85 and 90 years, older people are much more likely to consult their GP than any other primary healthcare team members. With a rapidly ageing society, it is essential that both current and future GPs are appropriately skilled, and adequately supported by specialist colleagues, as the main healthcare provider for a population with complex and challenging needs.