The NHS has been denying people surgery for cancer, hernia repairs and joint replacements because of their age, according to a damning new report.
Elderly people are being denied joint replacement surgery because of their age
A study by the Royal College of Surgeons, Age UK and communications consultancy MHP Health Mandate has accused the NHS of age discrimination over lifesaving surgery.
It urges doctors and surgeons to stop using chronological age to assess suitability for a procedure and instead use a ‘biological age’ or their overall health to make a decision.
The report details the variation in age group in patterns of treatment for eight types of surgery. It shows that while people’s health needs increase as they grow older, rates of planned surgery for some conditions among older people steadily decline.
For example, whilst the incidence of breast cancer is highest in women aged 85 and over, surgery peaks among those in their mid-60s and declines sharply from 70.
In addition, the rate of elective knee replacement and hip replacement surgery for patients in their late 70s and over has dropped sharply and consistently between 2008 and 2011, despite life expectancy for men and women being 78 and 82 respectively.
The report argues that growing life expectancy and the increasingly good health of senior citizens make birth date alone redundant as a deciding factor.
Professor Norman Williams, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: "The gap between the increasing health need and access to surgery means many older people are missing out on potentially lifesaving treatment."
Michelle Mitchell of Age UK added that age alone gives little indication as to people’s health. She said: “Yet in the past, too many medical decisions we believe have been made on age alone with informal ‘cut-offs’ imposed so that people over a certain age were denied treatment.
“We would like surgeons and other health professionals to read this report carefully and examine what they can do to ensure that age discrimination is eradicated from the NHS, as legislation now demands.”
Joint replacements appear to be increasingly restricted as the NHS rations treatments in an attempt to save £20bn by 2015. Experts warn that financial pressure could mean older people are disproportionately affected by this trend in coming years.
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