A pensioner has claimed she was denied surgery after being automatically deemed "unfit" because she was over 70.

Pat Kelso from County Fermanagh said she needed a hip operation in 2012 but there was a 68-week waiting list within the Western Health Trust area.

The trust used the independent sector to treat NHS patients within 30 weeks, but Mrs Kelso said she was told over-70s were not allowed on that list.

The trust has denied using age as a discriminatory factor for surgery.

Mrs Kelso, who is now 81, said when her daughter inquired about a place on the trust's shorter waiting list in 2012, she was told patients aged over 70 were automatically deemed clinically unfit and excluded from the 30-week list.

Private operation

"It was just that, if you are old, you are clinically unfit - one box fits all - and it doesn't, we're individuals," the pensioner told the BBC.

The Enniskillen resident said she was in agony and could not wait more than a year for a hip operation, so she used her own savings to pay for a private operation.

However, Mrs Kelso said she felt discriminated against, believing that doctors only took her age and not her personal circumstances or medical fitness into account.

She said she was speaking out in a bid to protect other pensioners who are clinically fit for surgery but who do not have the money to pay for private operations.

"I really felt that they were not looking at me. They only considered my age, they didn't consider Pat Kelso," she told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"I'm lucky, I had sufficient savings, I had a supportive family, but there are other elderly people who are as fit and indeed, in one case, a lady of 89 I know who is fitter than I am, and has had to go through the same procedure," Mrs Kelso said.

"There are some people who may not have that money and I think it is very unfair that they are not given the opportunity to at least see if they are properly clinically fit."

'Second class citizens'

The pensioner's call to end automatic age discrimination in surgery is being supported by Age NI.

The charity's director of policy, Duane Farrell, said Age NI receives regular reports from elderly patients who say their doctors have treated them like "second class citizens".

"Pat's daughter said 'they treated my mother's age, not my mother' and that's what is at the heart of this," Mr Farrell told Good Morning Ulster.

"The really worrying thing is that it is still perfectly legal in Northern Ireland to discriminate in that way.

"We have outlawed discrimination on the grounds of race, on the grounds of gender, on the grounds of sexual orientation - that is quite right - but we have not outlawed discrimination on the grounds of age," he added.

Mr Farrell said the Northern Ireland Executive had failed to fulfil its commitment to ending age discrimination for access to goods and services. 

He said some pensioners were being denied more aggressive cancer treatments on grounds of their age, and many with severe depression were not getting help on the NHS.

"Older people tell us on a day and daily basis that when they go to their doctor they are being told 'that's just the symptoms of getting older'.

Mr Farrell said age discrimination legislation had been promised in 2011 in Stormont's Programme for Government but added that three years on, the Northern Ireland Executive had missed "every milestone".

'Good practice'

"That legislation will drive somebody to look at the individual and see if frailty is a consideration, not just look at it on the basis of a number and say 'because you're 80 you are frail, therefore you do not receive this service'.

"At the moment, administrators, doctors can operate in pretty much whatever way they see fit because it's legal to so, Mr Farrell added.

"Actually the key decision is a political decision to say 'this is not acceptable, we're not going to allow this type of discrimination' and provide a framework within which clinicians, within which hospitals administrators, can then make those decisions."

A spokesperson for the Western Health and Social Care Trust said: "All patients requiring surgery are assessed through good practice regionally set guidelines to determine their medical fitness for the surgery required.

"The Western Trust does not use age as a discriminatory factor during the assessment. Due to patient/client confidentiality the trust will not be commenting further."

Article from BBC