New research into the Royal Hospital’s Model of Care suggests Chelsea Pensioners are showing the way for living longer and healthier lives

16th May 2024

For over 330 years, the Royal Hospital Chelsea has been caring for older Army Veterans. This has given the organisation a unique perspective on minimising health challenges associated with ageing. In recent years, the Hospital has refined its Model of Care, with a focus on mental and physical wellbeing, active ageing, and mutual support. 

New research, carried out by Northumbria University, sheds light on the Hospital’s Model of Care. It may give clues as to how to better deal with an ageing population in Britain – with the need being ever more pressing.

By 2050, 1 in 4 people in the UK will be above the age of 65. Unfortunately, this demographic shift is accompanied by a widening gap in the quality of life among older people. Many are experiencing poor health outcomes over their lifetimes.

Professor Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England, said: 

“This will have a profound impact on the demands placed on the NHS, and ever rising costs to the taxpayer, unless we can focus more on ‘wellness’ within our society, rather than on illness. So, we need to get smarter about how we support and care for our elderly”.

The Royal Hospital's own records paint a different picture. Records suggest that Chelsea Pensioners, on average, live significantly longer and enjoy better quality of life compared to their counterparts in the wider population – currently by around 5.5 years. As evidenced by the recent study, this longevity and well-being are attributed to the Hospital’s holistic approach to care. 

Lead author, Dr Helen Cullen, said: 

“There is a considerable body of peer-reviewed research on ageing which, for example, links social isolation for the elderly to poor mental health outcomes and to early onset illness. So, we have a growing understanding of cause and effect, but not how to reduce these negative impacts. We need to better understand how to improve health outcomes as we age”.

Dr Cullen’s study is the first in a new programme of independent research by the Royal Hospital Chelsea. The findings highlight four key areas of the Hospital’s care model – Environment, Identity, Staying Active and Staying Healthy. These key components were found to significantly influence health outcomes, contributing towards positive quality-of-life for Chelsea Pensioners. 

Diagram of four puzzle pieces connected with titles reading Environment, Staying Healthy, Staying Active, Identity

Dr Cullen also emphasised that these positive outcomes are replicable in other settings.

“Among my recommendations is the imperative to share best practice with other residential establishments, to improve health outcomes in the wider community, and to further investigate the impact of the Royal Hospital Chelsea Model of Care on Chelsea Pensioner longevity”.

The research began shortly after the Government released the Consultation Document ‘Advancing our Health: Prevention in the 2020s’. The document recognised a link between environment and wellbeing and set a challenge to deliver improved health outcomes, with the firm target of at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035. 

To meet such a challenge will require far greater cooperation and sharing of data, as well as best practice, between care and health providers and the world of science.

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Chelsea Pensioners in scarlet coat and Royal Gurkhas stood together
Chelsea Pensioners join the Liberation of Guernsey

This month marked the 79th anniversary of the Liberation of Guernsey. A group of 10 Chelsea Pensioners and serving soldiers from the Royal Gurkha Rifles visited the channel island to mark the occassion. 

Three Chelsea pensioners, two stood behind a bench and one sitting surrounded by red roses in pots
Introducing the Chelsea Pensioner Rose - 'every garden should have one'

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