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Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 23:49 GMT 00:49 UK
GPs say NHS is ageist
GP consultation
GPs are concerned by ageism in the NHS
Half of GPs have concerns about the way in which the NHS will deal with them in old age, according to a survey.

The research by the charity Age Concern reveals a grim picture where GPs know ageism is rife within the NHS, and adapt their treatment decisions as a consequence.

Some family doctors even admit they have not referred patients for hospital care on the grounds that they have already had a "good innings".

Age Concern found that more than three quarters (77%) of GPs surveyed say that age rationing occurs in the NHS.

This is despite government assurances that treatment is based on clinical need alone.

In hospital, you have to be able to feed yourself as the nurses don't do it - if you are frail, you've had it

GP comment

A third of GPs surveyed said that older patients do not enjoy the same quality of care in NHS hospitals as other patients.

And more than one in four (43%) said they would have concerns about a frail elderly relative going into hospital.

The survey also found that 84% of GPs surveyed have patients over 50 who have decided to go privately for treatment they would have expected on the NHS.

Inherently ageist

Age Concern says the survey provides proof that the NHS is "inherently ageist" and has called for a full scale government inquiry into the problem.

There is a disgustingly long waiting list for conditions associated with old age

GP comment

This call was supported by nearly two-thirds of GPs surveyed.

Age Concern director general Sally Greengross said: "This survey provides solid confirmation that age discrimination is the scourge of today's NHS.

"GPs, the gatekeepers of the NHS, are painting a grim picture of a service which is fundamentally stacked against older people."

The survey found that 16% of GPs decide, in some cases, not to refer older patients onto other parts of the NHS, suspecting they will not get treated because of their age.

One in ten have not referred in the past because they know of age barriers for treatment or services.

And almost one in ten say they have not referred patients because they think they have already had a "good innings".

Age Concern claims that there are upper age limits in some forms of NHS treatment, including heart transplants, heart bypass operations, kidney dialysis and cancer treatment.

The charity says there is also evidence that elderly patients are denied treatment, for instance the Alzheimer's disease drug Aricept.

BMA response

Dr John Chisholm
Dr John Chisholm deplored NHS ageism

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP Committee, supported the call for an inquiry into ageism.

He said: "The picture that Age Concern paints rings true.

"GPs are their patients' advocates and when patients require specialist treatment it is right that they should be referred for that treatment by a GP.

"We do not support the perception that elderly people are less deserving of treatment because they have "already had a good innings" - sometimes patients themselves have that view and they need to be persuaded that they deserve and would benefit from treatment."

Chairman of the Royal College of GP's Professor Mike Pringle said: "There is rationing in the NHS and some rationing decisions will apply to older people.

"The RCGP has called for a debate between the public, healthcare professionals and the State on rationing as all patients should know what services they can expect at what level."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "40% of NHS resources are dedicated to caring for elderly people and we are committed to making sure that that care is the best it can be.

"Discrimination of any kind - whether it is on the basis of age, race or gender, is completely unacceptable in the NHS."

The department is producing a new blueprint for care of the elderly, setting national standards of care and specifically addressing access to service.

The results are based on face-to-face interviews with 200 GPs.

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13 Apr 00 | Health
NHS ageism row sparks action
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