News and Events

Change in law to allow elderly to sue the NHS

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
  • Posted
  • Author

Ministers have this week announced that age discrimination relating to decisions on whether to treat NHS patients is to be outlawed following a consultation conducted by the Home Office.

The Government is implementing the change in law following a growth of inconsistent practices and unfair treatment of elderly patients, including failures to ignore conditions such as incontinence and depression, and in some instances, failures to test for life threatening conditions such as cancer and heart disease. The change has also been influenced by a damning report released last year from the Health Services Ombudsman which accused the NHS of failing, in some instances, to achieve even the most basic standards of care in elderly patients. The report also found many attitudes towards elderly patients were ageist, often referring to them as ‘bed blockers’.

Age UK director, Michelle Mitchell has welcomed the change but admits there is still work to be done to change the attitudes of medical professionals within the NHS towards elderly patients.

Kenneth Worden was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer at the age of 78. His treating clinicians came to the conclusion that he was too old to have life saving treatment. Kenneth’s daughter challenged the decision and, after numerous consultations, Kenneth underwent the procedure. Three years later, Kenneth is fit and well with no signs of his cancer returning.

Violet Simpson was diagnosed with a leaky valve at the age of 84. When she asked if she could have her condition cured her treating clinicians asked her “Why she was bothered about this at her age?” Following numerous protests Violet is soon to undergo the potentially life-saving procedure.

It is easy to see how such cases as those listed above, could, without the protests of the patients involved, have led to a decline in patient health and even premature death. It is to be hoped that similar instances will no longer occur following the implementation of the ban on age discrimination within the NHS in October 2012.

By clinical negligence specialist, Paul Burrows