Is the NHS institutionally ageist?

Sunday 1 November, 5.30pm until 6.30pm, Courtyard Gallery

By 2030 there will be a 50 percent increase in the proportion of the population over 65, and an 80 percent increase in those over 80. As we get better at treating conditions of childhood and mid-life, the main business of health and social care will increasingly be the care of older people, often frail or disabled and often with long term illnesses - care and support rather than cure. Even now, around 60% of bed days in NHS hospitals are in people over 65.

However, there is growing concern that the elderly are increasingly seen as a burden on the system and that cutting-edge medicine and top-quality care is reserved for younger patients. A Daily Mail article this year entitled ‘Why does the NHS hate the elderly so much?’ quoted a British Geriatrics Society survey that found seven out of ten specialists believe the elderly are less likely to receive proper diagnosis and essential treatment. The campaign to lower the age for cervical cancer screening received wide media coverage following Jade Goody’s death. Yet free breast cancer screening stops at 73 even though the likelihood of the disease increases with age. Mental health and old age is a black-hole: in 2007 the Inquiry into Mental Health and Well-Being in Later Life found that older people with mental health problems are often ignored and receive little support.

Have the values and priorities of society, NHS staff and organisations caught up with the reality of an ageing population? Or are we still obsessed with youth, and in collective denial about the realities of ageing? The new Equality Bill will explicitly outlaw age-based discrimination in healthcare for the first time, but in the face of an economic downturn and likely constraints on public spending, is this simply unrealistic? When resources are scarce, perhaps it is only fair that we prioritise the needs of younger people, and let nature take its course with those who have had a ‘fair innings’. Or should we stick to the principles that each patient must be valued the same as any other?

Listen to the session audio…

Other formats are available here

Speakers
Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
retired GP; author, The Tyranny of Health: doctors and the regulation of lifestyle and Defeating Austism: a damaging delusion

Professor Raanan Gillon
emeritus professor, medical ethics, Imperial College London; author, Philosophical Medical Ethics; senior editor, Principles of Health Care Ethics

Professor David Oliver
national clinical director for older people, Department of Health; consultant physician, Royal Berkshire Hospital; visiting professor, medicine for older people, City University, London

Adam Wishart
award-winning writer and documentary maker, The Price of Life and Monkeys, Rats and Me; author, One in Three: a son’s journey into the history and science of cancer

Chair:
Helen Birtwistle
history and politics teacher, South London school


Produced by
Helen Birtwistle history and politics teacher, South London school
Professor David Oliver national clinical director for older people, Department of Health; consultant physician, Royal Berkshire Hospital; visiting professor, medicine for older people, City University, London
Recommended readings
Why does the NHS hate the elderly so much?

Government NHS policy has placed the emphasis on vote-winning targets such as waiting times, rather than focusing on care

Harriet Sergeant, Daily Mail, 19 March 2009

NHS still ageist after all these years

Despite various promises to the contrary, age discrimination is alive and well in the NHS. Directors from two older people’s charities hope new legislation will change this

Gordon Lishman and Paul Cann, Health Service Journal, 19 February 2009

NHS Ageism: Case studies

Research published by the charity Help The Aged finds that many geriatricians think the NHS is institutionally ageist. Three women recount their experiences with the health service.

BBC News, 27 January 2009

The Imaginary Time Bomb: Why an Ageing Population Is Not a Social Problem

The modern world's growing preoccupation with ageing has little or nothing to do with demography but rather that it is used to justify further reductions in the role of government in the economy and the curbing of the welfare state

Phil Mullan, I B Tauris, 25 January 2002


Festival Buzz

"It was like having sex with Richard Dawkins and the Pope at the same time. Incredibly stimulating arguments. "
Julian Gough, novelist