The NHS must never discriminate based on age – that was the message given by Care Services Minister Paul Burstow today as he announced that the Department of Health will not be seeking any exceptions to the planned implementation of the Equality Act 2010.

The Government is committed to tackling age discrimination and the Government Equalities Office will shortly launch a consultation on the Equality Act through which Departments are able to seek specific exceptions before it comes into force in April 2012. (the consultation has been launched and further information on it can be found in this article).

As part of its commitment to a personal, fair and diverse service that protects patients’ dignity and ensures that all patients receive the best possible treatment regardless of their age, the Department of Health will not be seeking any exceptions.

Reports by the British Geriatrics Society and the recent Health Ombudsman Report on Care and Compassion have suggested that older people do not always receive the same standard of care from the NHS as younger patients.  The Age Review carried out in 2009 also identified a number of areas in health and social care where age discrimination was most likely to occur and made recommendations around how the ban on age discrimination could best be implemented.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said:

"There can be no place for arbitrary age discrimination in the NHS. We know that older people are not always treated with the dignity they deserve because of ageist attitudes.

“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. By not seeking any exception for the Equality Act, we are sending a clear message that there is no place for age discrimination in the NHS.

“The views of the respondents to this consultation will be vital to help us ensure that the ban on age discrimination helps us improve services for everyone."

Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK said:

"Age discrimination has been a feature of health and social care services in this country for far too long. The introduction of landmark legislation to ban harmful ageist policies and practices provides an opportunity to stamp them out once and for all, so that everyone can expect to receive the highest standards of treatment and care, regardless of their age.

"It is extremely important that as the NHS goes through a period of change, it doesn't lose sight of this key commitment to older people. Achieving age equality is vital to delivering high quality care and central to the Government's ambitions for the NHS and public health.”

The Equality Act 2010 does not aim to prevent age discrimination when there are beneficial or justifiable reasons for it, only harmful discrimination.  Commissioners and providers of NHS and social care services should continue to make sensible, clinically justifiable decisions based on age for relevant services such as eligibility for screening and vaccination programmes that are based on the best evidence available.

Examples of clinical decisions based on age which will not be affected by the ban include:

  • Cervical cancer screening programme
  • NHS Health Checks
  • Seasonal flu vaccination
  • IVF treatment
  • NHS charges

Examples of the type of harmful discrimination the ban aims to end include:

  • Making assumptions about whether an older patient should be referred for treatment based solely on their age, rather than on the individual need and fitness level
  • Not referring certain age groups for a particular treatment or intervention (such as those not of working age) that are considered mainly, but not exclusively for working age adults
  • Not considering the wellbeing or dignity of older people

To help the NHS and social care prepare for the ban, a resource pack has been produced by NHS South West. This includes a self assessment toolkit that health and social care organisations can use to work with their local stakeholders to identify what actions they need to take to end age discrimination and promote age equality, a guide for NHS commissioners and providers and a guide for social care.

Article from Healthcare Today