Age Concern and Help the Aged has criticised government proposals to allow exemptions from the ban on age discrimination for health and social care under the Equality Bill.

In a document published yesterday on implementing the ban on ageism, the government said it may be possible to allow age discrimination in some circumstances where an "age-blind" approach was not appropriate or detrimental to one particular group.

It said not allowing some exceptions could be harmful to service users who benefited from age being a consideration where it was appropriate.

Age Concern and Help the Aged said it was unhappy that this was being considered. Head of policy Andrew Harrop said: "The Equality Bill was intended to stamp out age discrimination in health and social care, but the proposed exceptions for medical professionals in today's statement sends mixed-signals about exactly how far the legislation goes. Today's statement seems to reinforce that it is OK for health professionals to use age when making decisions about medical treatment."

The government emphasised that any exemptions to the age discrimination law would be subject to clear need.

It suggested exemptions should cover the operation of age limits for national public health programmes and the judgements of professionals following comprehensive assessments, though stressed that the latter should not become a "licence to discriminate".

Harrop said that age was not a solid ground for decision-making on the benefits of treatment as it was not a reliable indicator of someone's health.

Consultation on the proposed exemptions for age discrimination and how they should work is taking place between now and 30 April 2010.

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