Ageism in the health service and social care

A Doctor and her patient

Health and social care services have made some progress in tackling age discrimination‚ but people in later life still report feeling that they have had second class treatment and care simply because of their age.

For example‚ your doctor may not refer you to a consultant because of your date of birth‚ or inappropriate comments may be made about your age while you are in hospital. You might even be pushed into a care home you don’t want, or be refused specific social services because of your age.

If you feel that you have been treated badly in health and social care on the basis of your age‚ here are some actions you can take:

What you can do

If you’re unhappy with the services or the attitude of staff you come in contact with‚ you should complain.

You can often resolve such issues by discussing them with the doctor‚ nurse or the practice manager.

Contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service

If you don’t feel able to raise an issue personally‚ contact your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). The staff there will also be able to advise you on how to make a formal complaint about NHS services and can give you details about the Independent Complaints and Advocacy Service (ICAS). Your local NHS Trust and the national advice service NHS Direct will be able to put you in contact with your local PALS.

Although there is an upper age limit of 70 on invitations to breast cancer screening‚ you are still entitled to request a screening every 3 years beyond that age. Contact your local breast screening unit via NHS Direct.

Be aware of your rights

If you feel that you or your relative are being railroaded into choosing a particular care home rather than being offered choice - particularly when moving out of hospital - be aware of your rights.

Under the ‘Choice of Accommodation’ Directive you have the right to choose a care home. There are alternatives‚ such as help at home or moving into sheltered housing.

Request a review

If you are unhappy about the care that is being offered following discharge from hospital‚ you should request a review. The NHS cannot discharge you until the review is completed.

If you think you need help from social services‚ don’t be brushed off. Take up your right to an assessment which will identify any help you‚ or your carer‚ may need. If you’re not happy with the outcome of the assessment‚ you can complain through the Local Authority complaints procedure. If you are still unhappy‚ you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Be aware that if the Local Authority decides you need services‚ you may be entitled to the option of a cash payment (also called a direct payment) instead so that you can purchase your own care.

Local Authorities

Local Authorities can levy a charge for services‚ so if you have continuing health needs after leaving hospital check whether you are eligible for continuing NHS funding. You may not have to pay for your care. There are national rules which the Local Authority must follow when calculating your contribution towards care home costs.

You can get involved in health services locally through your local Patient Forum - they often work closely with local services and are always on the lookout for older people to get involved. Contact your local Age Concern/Age UK through our Advice Line for more details.

Age discrimination and the law

The Equality Act 2010 includes provisions that ban age discrimination against adults in the provision of services and public functions.

The ban came into force on 1 October 2012 and it is now unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age unless:

  • the practice is covered by an exception from the ban
  • good reason can be shown for the differential treatment (‘objective justification’)

The ban on age discrimination is designed to ensure that the new law prohibits only harmful treatment that results in genuinely unfair discrimination because of age.

It does not outlaw the many instances of different treatment that are justifiable or beneficial.

More information

If you, or someone you know, has experienced age discrimination, you may find our factsheet helpful:
opens link in new window Resolving problems and making a complaint about care (188 KB)

Call our Advice line on 0800 169 65 65 65

We are grateful for the generous support of Dr Naim Dangoor CBE
and The Exilarch's Foundation

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Age UK Advice:
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What is Care in Crisis?

Why is the social care system in crisis? What is Age UK doing to help?

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