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Nearly half of patients with chronic disease do not feel able to take effective action to manage their illnesses, a UK-wide survey reveals.

Patients from lower socio-economic groups, those who left school at 16 and elderly people were least able to manage their care effectively, the Picker Institute found.

The survey of 3,000 people found only 12 per cent of those over 85 and 9 per cent of those aged 75 to 84 felt they could take action to improve and manage their health and sustain this in times of stress.

Only 16 per cent of people from the lowest socio-economic groups, D and E, felt able to maintain action under stress, compared to 27 per cent from the highest groups, A and B.

Professor Angela Coulter, chief executive of the institute, said: 'The Government's health reforms rely on patients taking a more active role in their treatment and care. What is clear from this survey is that more effective support strategies need to be targeted to vulnerable groups.'

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of Developing Patient Partnerships and a GP in Carnforth, Lancashire, said: 'It's vital we get information over in a way patients understand.'

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