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Ministers accused of ageism over talking therapies

Talking therapy pilots 'breaking age laws' over restrictions to under-65s

The Government has been accused of breaking its own ageism laws after it emerged its flagship talking therapy pilots are restricting access to patients of working age.

Pulse has learned that the pilots – designed to form the basis of a nationwide rollout of therapy – are wholly focused on getting unemployed patients back into work.

Some primary care trusts are also reserving psychological therapies for use in the over-65s, seeing them solely as a tool for tackling worklessness among the mentally ill.

But Professor Ian Philp, the Government's older persons' care tsar, warned any restrictions in use of therapy might be discriminatory under anti-ageism legislation.

He told Pulse: 'The practice has to be phased out – we might be forced to by legislation. There is no place for treatment to be determined by age in health services.'

GPs and community mental health workers working on the Department of Health's Newham and Doncaster pilots have been told to restrict treatment to those of working age.

Dr Anurag Sinha, a GP in Upton Park, east London, who took part in the Newham scheme, insisted talking therapies should be 'available to anybody who fits the criteria'.

Dr Sinha said: 'When we first talked about the pilot, we didn't know there was such a big focus on worklessness. CBT availability is horrendous. We want to cure all our patients, irrespective of age. Age is irrelevant.'

Pulse has also learned that in certain areas of the country, such as South Staffordshire PCT, treatment guidelines specifically exclude over-65s.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said given the huge burden of mental health disease in older people, the Government's strategy was 'totally discriminatory'.

Dr McCulloch urged GPs who were being pressed by their PCT to restrict talking therapies to under-65s to contact medical defence bodies, as given new age discrimination laws 'it may well be that practice is illegal'.

The Treasury last year confirmed talking therapy would be a major focus of its 2007 comprehensive spending review.

lanekwe@cmpmedica.com

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