NHS surgery “age discrimination” places lives at risk

2 September 2013

NHS surgery “age discrimination” places lives at risk

Treatment statistics suggest a ‘postcode lottery’ for elderly patients being treated under the NHS whereby they are being denied potentially life-saving treatment on a routine basis. The reason according to the figures is due to where these patients live.

The former health minister Paul Burstow has obtained NHS treatment statistics which shows a wide disparity between times of availability for surgery in different parts of England for people over the age of 75. Burstow opined that the conclusion of the figures and what they reveal is tantamount to a ‘postcode lottery’ in the health service whereby elderly patients are more likely to be allowed certain types of surgery in some areas as opposed to others. The figures were obtained in response to a Parliamentary question posed by Mr Burstow and some of the stark findings were:

  • Patients over the age of 75 are six times as likely to be allowed cancer surgery in some areas as in others.
  • Procedures such as hip and knee replacements are 12 times more common for elderly people in some places than in others.

Whilst caution is regularly exercised when deciding whether to carry out surgery on some elderly or older patients due to the higher associated risk of complications, the statistics suggest that this is not the only reason leading to the disparity between treatment rates between different areas in the country. The range in treatment results found that, for instance, a bowel cancer patient over the age of 75 in Newcastle would be five times as likely to receive a colorectal excision as one in Brent, north-west London.

Incidentally, Mid Devon Primary Care Trust carries out proportionally six times as many breast excision operations on women over 75 as the Heart of Birmingham Primary Care Trust.

It is not only lifesaving operations that have come under scrutiny but other types of treatment as well, for example knee replacements where an older patient living in Berkhamsted, Herts, is more than 12 as likely to receive a knee replacement operation as one in Brent.

Mr Burstow opined that the figures highlighted a worrying conclusion-that the health of older people was secondary to younger patients, that some NHS trusts viewed older patients as “second class citizens”.

He further opined that “These figures reveal a postcode lottery of age discrimination…in some parts of the country life saving surgery is not being made available to older people”

“If things don’t change thanks to the ban on age discrimination in the NHS older people can take action to make sure that they are not treated as second class citizens.

“The NHS should provide people of all ages with the best possible quality health care.

"It is clear that decisions on whether a person receives an operation should only ever be made on the basis of individual patient assessments and never simply because of a person’s date of birth.”

The fact that these findings may give way to a raft of age discrimination litigation under new age discrimination laws is also a further corollary to these findings.

Michelle Mitchell, director general of Age UK, said: "The clear implication of these figures is that many older people, particularly in certain areas of the country, still face unfair, discriminatory and potentially illegal practice in the NHS.

"Everyone deserves fair access to medical care, yet older people's health and even their lives are at risk if arbitrary decisions are being made about their care based on their age, rather than their individual clinical need."

“The ban on age discrimination last year was an important step forward but these figures show there is a lot further to go before every older person can be confident there's a level playing field when it comes to their treatment on the NHS.

“We are living longer than ever before, but to live healthier later lives our NHS must provide first class care for patients of all ages, right across the country."

If you have experienced any form of medical mistreatment at any of the above mentioned trusts, or want to better understand exactly what your patient rights are, we are pleased to offer advice and support to you. Our specialists have wide experience of providing advice and support across a number of areas relating to potential medical mistreatment, such as misdiagnosis and delay and surgery errors, for example.