Survey suggests older people not getting access to best treatment
A major cancer charity is calling for an end to what it terms age discrimination in the NHS after a survey revealed health workers believe older people are being denied access to the best cancer treatment.
Research commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support among 155 GPs, oncologists and clinical nurses involved in the treatment of cancer patients found that 48% think health professionals’ stereotypes and assumptions about older people is resulting in some older cancer patients not getting the best treatment.
Some 45% of respondents said they have dealt with a cancer patient who has been refused treatment on the grounds they were too old, and two thirds (67%) said they have heard health professionals speak to older cancer patients in a condescending or dismissive way.
The findings echo those of recent reports by the Royal College of Surgeons and the Department of Health which have suggested that some health professionals make age-based assumptions about people’s ability to tolerate cancer treatment.
Macmillan says the UK has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe for older people, and is today launching a report – Cancer Services Coming of Age – outlining what health providers must do to improve treatment and care for older people with cancer.
The organisation is calling on providers to adopt assessment methods that test a patient’s overall physical and mental wellbeing to ensure treatment decisions aren’t based on age alone, and to give health professionals the time and resources to complete specialist training in elderly care.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said unless proper assessments of patients’ overall physical and mental wellbeing are carried out, “some patients will be unfairly written-off as ‘too old’ for treatment”.
He said: “The number of older people (aged 65 and over) living with cancer in the UK is set to rocket in the next 20 years from 1.3 million to 4.1 million.
“Unless the barriers to timely treatment are tackled now, many older people could die unnecessarily from cancer and services will become unaffordable.”