Plans under way to tackle ageism in the NHS

Plans under way to tackle ageism in the NHS

As evidence accumulates that elderly people suffer worse treatment than the young on the NHS, the Government and health watchdogs have devised a series of plans to tackle the problem.


The Government insists it will ensure all patients receive the same treatment regardless of age

By Martin Beckford, Health Correspondent

7:00AM BST 22 Jun 2011

They range from making age discrimination illegal to carrying out spot checks on hospital geriatric wards.

However it has been claimed that the problem is down to the culture in the health service and the attitude of staff, and that new laws and more rigorous checks may only increase bureaucracy rather than improving care.

The most sweeping change will come into force next April, as a provision of Labour’s flagship Equality Act outlaws age discrimination in the provision of health services.

It will lead to upper age limits on screening programmes being scrapped, and could see elderly patients taking legal action against NHS trusts if they feel they were overlooked for surgery because of their age or treated less well than younger patients on the same ward.

The move is likely to have significant cost implications for the health service, as older patients tend to have more than one condition and because they already take up a large proportion of hospital wards.

It will also likely tie up NHS trusts in costly court cases with patients and lobby groups who want to prove that GPs or consultants are ageist.

But the Government insists the move to ensure all patients receive the same treatment regardless of age is essential particularly as the population grows older.

In a separate move announced earlier in June, the Department of Health is working with leading charities on 13 pilot schemes to improve cancer survival rates among the elderly.

This will include training clinicians to ensure they do not discriminate against elderly people, and to make sure that patients are assessed using techniques that are standard in geriatric medicine.

But it is also claimed that some pensioners decline treatment because they fear that their partners or pets will suffer if they go into hospital. So the one-year schemes will also provide support to the over-70s with transport, housekeeping, shopping and even dog-walking so they feel confident enough to start cancer treatment.

Meanwhile the Care Quality Commission, the super-regulator for health and social care, is publishing the results of 100 unannounced inspections it is carrying out into the standards of dignity and nutrition provided to the elderly on NHS wards. Trusts failing legal requirements can face fines or even having wards closed down.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which carries out disciplinary hearings for the caring professions, has started looking into more than 150 new cases over the past few months following media investigations into neglect of the elderly and vulnerable