Some 80% of doctors are concerned about how they will be treated when they grow old and fear that current policies to deal with the ageing population are not "comprehensive, realistic or sufficiently funded to address future demand".

That is one of the key finding of a new study from the Economist Intelligence Unit, supported by Pfizer, which surveyed 1,113 healthcare professionals in several European countries. It concludes that there is "an urgent need to rethink the way healthcare is provided to older people".

The report declares that "smarter investment should focus on preventive healthcare" and the main recommendation made by 46% of medical professionals in the survey is for governments to prioritise making citizens responsible for their own health. It argues that greater emphasis should be placed on better integration of health and social care, as only 38% of respondents feel their country is good at this.

The EIU analysis claims that the training of health professionals "is not currently geared to the evolving needs of healthcare systems, in particular the integrated care which elderly patients with more than one chronic condition require". It also argues that negative attitudes towards older people need to be challenged.

The outlook is not entirely pessimistic, however, the EIU says. While 49% of survey respondents claim that ageing is a threat to the viability of their countries’ national healthcare systems, 50% believe it provides the opportunity for broader reforms which are needed anyway.

Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission, said: "we see population ageing as being not only a challenge but a formidable opportunity for innovation and growth in Europe". She added that the situation "forces us to adopt new models...and to invest in technologies, tools and skills to help older people stay healthy and active members of society."

Richard Torbett, senior director of international affairs at Pfizer, added that healthcare professionals are delivering a clear message that prioritising the right investments now — in preventive health, training and service integration — can put us in a position to manage the transition to an older society sustainably and cost-effectively".