Elderly denied NHS care can sue: Ministers will outlaw age discrimination by hospitals
Those refused operations, test and scans can claim compensation from OctoberCare Services Minister says elderly are sometimes treated badly due to 'ageist attitudes'Patients or relatives can file legal action if treated without dignity
23:00 GMT, 11 June 2012
Denying treatment to Health Service patients because they are too old is to be outlawed.
From October, the elderly will be given the right to sue if they have faced age-discrimination by NHS staff.
Those refused operations, tests and scans routinely offered to younger patients will be able to take legal action against individual members of staff or trusts, ministers will announce today.
New rules: Older patients will be able to demand compensation if they have been treated without dignity on hospital wards
Patients – or their relatives – will also be able to go to court and claim compensation if they have been treated without dignity on hospital wards.
The measure comes amid mounting evidence that the elderly are routinely being refused treatments for cancer, heart problems and strokes because of their age.
Doctors have admitted that they often make judgments that are based on a patient’s date of birth before even seeing them.
Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said the elderly do not always get the treatment they deserve because of 'ageist attitudes'
And a spate of damning reports have revealed how the elderly are routinely left hungry, dehydrated and in soiled clothing on NHS wards as they struggle to make themselves heard.
Care Services Minister Paul Burstow will say today: ‘We know that older people are not always treated with the dignity and respect they deserve because of ageist attitudes. This will not be tolerated. There is no place for age discrimination in the NHS or social care.
‘Our population is ageing as more of us live longer. The challenge for the NHS is to look beyond a person’s date of birth and meet the needs of older people as individuals.
‘I have heard numerous stories from people who feel they have been discriminated against.’
The Government has made an amendment to the Equalities Act that will make it illegal for NHS staff to assume patients are too old for care.
There will, however, be cases where elderly patients are just too frail for certain high-risk operations or treatments such as chemotherapy.
But under the new law, doctors and other NHS staff will have to carry out proper consultations and take into account the patient’s fitness and health before making a judgement.
Mr Burstow said he knew of a woman of 84 whose doctor had refused her surgery to repair a leaky valve in her heart.
He said: ‘She asked if she could have this fixed and the doctors said “What are you bothered about, at your age”.
'This is exactly the kind of discrimination we want to rule out.’ He said the woman was finally getting the treatment she needed.
The Mail has long called for an improvement in the care of patients in old-age as part of our Dignity for the Elderly campaign.
Last night Michelle Mitchell, director of Age UK, said: Discrimination based on your date of birth is as indefensible in 21st century Britain as prejudice on the basis of race, gender, disability or sexual orientation.
‘We hope the new law which will apply to the NHS, social care and other services will prevent older people being denied proper treatment because of their age. It sends a clear message to service providers that discrimination law will in future also protect older people.’
The amendment was first put forward by Labour by the then Health Secretary Andy Burnham.
The age discrimination cases will be heard by county courts and if a judge rules in a patient’s favour they may be entitled to hefty compensation payouts.
IVF treatment will be exempt from the new rules because it is not as effective for older patients.
Critics will claim that the proposals could become a ‘lawyer’s charter’ as firms seek to exploit a lucrative new market.
However, last year a report by the National Cancer Intelligence Network found that women with breast cancer in their seventies and eighties were far less likely to be offered surgery than those in their fifties.
Experts said doctors often just looked at patients’ dates of birth in their notes and drew up treatment plans without even seeing them.
And NICE, the NHS watchdog, has warned that the elderly with hip fractures are often regarded as ‘low priority’ by staff. Last June the organisation claimed the operations were frequently carried out by junior doctors rather than senior consultants.
There is also particular concern about the care for elderly patients with dementia. Experts warn that thousands are never given a proper diagnosis because doctors simply view it as an inevitable sign of old age.