Ageist doctors ‘deny treatment to elderly’

By Charlotte Oliver, March 6, 2014

One of the world’s leading experts in the treatment of blood disorders has warned of an “intrinsic ageism” within the medical profession, preventing many elderly patients from receiving beneficial cancer treatment.

Anthony Goldstone, Professor of haematology at University College Hospital in London, described his “considerable anxiety” over his colleagues’ approach to dealing with cancer patients aged 60 or over.

He claimed that some doctors write off elderly people as too old for palliative treatment, despite the fact that many pensioners maintain a high level of fitness well into their old age.

He said: “I think that, within the whole of the therapeutic community — be it doctors, nurses or pharmacists — there is an intrinsic ageism, which they might not even recognise if they are challenged.

“I have sat in a room full of 30 so-called experts — clinicians, radiation therapists and nurses — where, referring to some patient, they say: ‘Well, they’re in their late 60s, let’s not attempt that.’

“It’s a judgmental decision that is not based on a technical assessment.”

Writing in this week’s JC Health & Wellbeing supplement, Prof Goldstone argued that, by assessing patients on their fitness instead of their age alone, doctors could successfully treat cancer patients well into their 80s and 90s with full chemotherapy. He said: “If elderly patients have the same tumour, and are technically fit in terms of their heart, liver, kidneys and blood pressure, then it will work just as well or just as badly as it will in anyone else.”

It was crucial, he said, that older patients choose a doctor “whose attitude dictates just as good an outcome for the elderly as for the young”.

He added: “Being considerably over 60 myself, the more negative attitudes I hear, the more I worry I am entering an age range where I myself might not be offered appropriate treatment.”

Last updated: 2:53pm, March 6 2014