Theresa May recently announced (May 2012) that, as from October this year, elderly patients will be able to sue those who provide services, including healthcare, if they are denied the service on the basis of their age alone.
A number of reports in recent months have highlighted significant concerns with the treatment provided to elderly patients. These concerns include not being offered treatment, including that which may prolong a life, purely on age, rather than considering each person’s situation on clinical need and their overall health.
A simple example of where this is an issue is in the treatment of incontinence. Those who, for a variety of reasons, start to suffer in early and middle age are routinely investigated to discover the source of the problem, and then offered treatment to try and improve the condition. However, with elderly patients it is accepted as being “one of those things”. It almost seems that younger people have more of a right to dignity than the elderly, so the requirement to consider an elderly patient’s “wellbeing and dignity” within this new law is very much welcomed.
Treatment must be offered on clinical need alone. It is a fact that the elderly will have many more medical conditions than younger people and will not be suitable for some procedures. If there are justifiable clinical reasons for not offering a treatment, there will not be a claim. But to deny a patient treatment because they are 82 will now be unlawful, as indeed it should be.