The care services minister Paul Burstow has said the NHS must never discriminate based on age and that the Department of Health will not be seeking any exceptions to the planned implementation of the Equality Act 2010.
Government departments are being given the opportunity to seek specific exceptions before Equality Act comes into force in April 2012. However, as part of its commitment to a personal, fair and diverse service that protects patients’ dignity and ensures that all patients receive the best possible treatment regardless of age, the Department of Health will not be seeking any exceptions.
Care services minister Paul Burstow said, "There can be no place for arbitrary age discrimination in the NHS. We know that older people are not always treated with the dignity they deserve because of ageist attitudes.
"Our population is ageing as more of us live longer. The challenge for the NHS is to look beyond a person’s date of birth and meet the needs of older people as individuals. By not seeking any exception for the Equality Act, we are sending a clear message that there is no place for age discrimination in the NHS."
Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK said, "Age discrimination has been a feature of health and social care services in this country for far too long. The introduction of landmark legislation to ban harmful ageist policies and practices provides an opportunity to stamp them out once and for all, so that everyone can expect to receive the highest standards of treatment and care, regardless of their age."
The Equality Act 2010 does not aim to prevent age discrimination when there are beneficial or justifiable reasons for it, only harmful discrimination. Commissioners and providers of NHS and social care services should continue to make sensible, clinically justifiable decisions based on age for relevant services such as eligibility for screening and vaccination programmes that are based on the best evidence available.