Joint statement on the rights of older people in the UK to treatment during this pandemic
Published on 30 March 2020 10:00 AM
The media are reporting that governments across the world are developing ethical guidelines and decision tools to help their doctors to prioritise patients for hospital admission and treatment (1). This difficult work is designed to ensure that the incredibly tough decisions about who gets what treatment at this time of crisis are made as fairly and effectively as possible by their doctors, who if these guidelines and decision tools are needed will be working in very stressful and challenging situations.
As organisations and individuals dedicated to supporting older people and protecting their rights we are joining together to say that if and when our own governments across the UK do similar work it is vital that they all continue to uphold fundamental human rights principles.
Any suggestion that treatment decisions can be blanket ones, based on age alone or with a person’s age given undue weight as against other factors, such as their usual state of health and capacity to benefit from treatment, would be completely unacceptable. For many years we have known that chronological age is a very poor proxy for an individual’s health status and resilience – something we all see among the older people in our lives. To ignore this and to revert to an approach based solely or mainly on age would be, by definition, ageist, discriminatory and morally wrong.
We strongly believe that decisions about treatment should always be made on a case by case basis through honest discussion between doctors, patients and their families that factor in the risks, benefits, and people's wishes. There is no reason to abandon this long-established good practice now; in fact the current health emergency makes it more critical than ever that we keep it.
In addition, the fact that someone is in need of care and support, in a care home or their own home, should not be used as a proxy for their health status, nor blanket policies applied - for example, over whether they should be admitted to hospital. To make such decisions without considering either an older person’s needs or their capacity to benefit from hospital treatment would be discriminatory and unfair."
(1) See for example, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8162357/US-coronavirus-New-York-hospitals-guidance-use-LOTTERIES-ventilators-shortage.html ; https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/world/europe/12italy-coronavirus-health-care.html
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director Age UK
Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive Independent Age
Jane Ashcroft, Chief Executive Anchor Hanover
Helena Herklots, Older People’s Commissioner in Wales
Victoria Lloyd, Chief Executive Age Cymru
Eddie Lynch, Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland
Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive, Scottish Care
Linda Robinson, Chief Executive Age Northern Ireland
Brian Sloan, Chief Executive Age Scotland
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Notes to editors
We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.
Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances. We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well-being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.
Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we"). Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).