GP commissioning leaders have criticised the Government’s ‘knee jerk reaction’ in announcing a blanket ban on age discrimination in the NHS.
The comments come after care minister Paul Burstow said yesterday that patients will have the right to sue if they have been denied care based on age alone from this October.
Mr Burstow said: ‘The challenge for the NHS is to look beyond a person’s date of birth and meet the needs of older people as individuals.’
The move comes after the Health Services Ombudsman found the NHS was failing to provide basic standards of care to the over 65s and the King’s Fund reported that treatable conditions are sometimes ignored in elderly patients.
But NHS Alliance chair Dr Michael Dixon said a sweeping central directive could become counterproductive if it became ‘more about political correctness and ticking boxes than common sense’.
He said: ‘It does irk me when you have these ongoing central directives that have not involved CCGs.
‘Yes you need to think very hard before you deny someone a treatment on the basis of age but you mustn’t create a system that puts front-line staff or CCGs in a strait jacket.’
Dr Dixon said CCGs needed to be free to make sensible decisions in discussion with clinicians and local patients.
He said: ‘It does deny the real issue that if you have got a 102 year old that requires a hip replacement and a 62 year old that requires a hip replacement and you only have enough money for one of them – who are you going to choose?’
Age discrimination is already outlawed in the workplace under the Equality Act, but the latest announcement comes after a year-long consultation on how the law should apply to public and private services.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘There are clinical instances where taking someone’s age into account is right and the legislation allows for this – but organisations will need to show, if challenged, that there is a good reason for that different treatment.’
‘This will contribute towards ensuring that high quality, dignified and compassionate care services are provided on the basis of need.’