Client: Age Concern
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Ageism in the NHS
Timescale: Spring 1999-ongoing
In spring 1999, Age Concern conducted an exercise to establish how
widespread age discrimination was in the NHS. A letter was circulated to
every regional and local paper in the country, calling for people to
contact the charity with their experiences.
Thousands of letters and calls were received in response. The feedback
confirmed that people were really concerned about ageism within the
To raise awareness of ageism in the NHS. To build public support for its
eradication via the media. To generate a public and professional debate
in order to provide solutions to the problem. To ensure that the
Government takes action on the issue.
Strategy and Plan
On the basis of Age Concern's initial findings, the charity commissioned
a Gallup survey to discover what elderly people thought about the health
service. The results were published in April 1999 and findings were sold
into the national press.
The most controversial finding was that patients felt the health
services were dismissive towards those aged over 50 and less amenable
towards them than to other age groups.
On the basis of evidence collected through patients and the results of
the survey, in November 1999 Age Concern produced a report called
Turning Your Back On Us.
It used examples of elderly people who had fallen victim to age
discrimination in the NHS. These people were set up for interviews with
the media. Coverage included both broadcast and print.
Deborah Orr described the report in her Independent column as 'a wake-up
call to the NHS' and the report was widely heralded as offering a grim
view of the NHS.
At this juncture, Age Concern felt it was time to broaden the
At the start of 2000, the charity put together an early day motion,
which was signed by 100 MPs within a month. So far the motion has
attracted the signatures of 180 MPs. It calls for the Government to
launch an enquiry into age discrimination in the health service.
In April, Age Concern used more examples of ageism. One of these
involved patients discovering the acronym DNR (do not resuscitate)
scrawled on their medical notes - at the time Age Concern knew of four
patients who had discovered the acronym on their notes.
One was Jill Baker, a terminally ill woman who had never been consulted
and claimed she had never even heard of the junior doctor who had
altered her notes.
Baker's case opened the floodgates and the response from the media, the
public and politicians was huge. Every national paper and all
terrestrial TV news covered the story. On the Thursday the story broke,
Age Concern's switchboard was inundated with calls, mostly from people
with similar stories. Some had seen DNR written on their notes, but had
not known what it meant at the time.
The NHS's own National Resuscitation Guidelines stipulate that there
must be consultation with the patient, or their family, and that the
final decision should be taken by a professional at consultant
In May, Age Concern published another survey. This revealed that
two-thirds of GPs agreed that age discrimination existed in the health
service and backed the call for an enquiry.
Measurement and Evaluation
The story made the front page of the Daily Mail and the Independent on
Sunday. By Sunday, Age Concern had received details of another 100 cases
similar in nature to Baker's.
In late July, the Government launched the 'NHS national plan' and
acknowledged that there could be a problem. It stated that 'a blanket
DNR policy based on a specific patient group, such as elderly patients,
is not acceptable'.
The deluge of outrage forced the Government into a position in which it
had to acknowledge there was a possibility that ageism in the NHS
existed, and that it needed to be discussed.
Two weeks ago, new guidelines on resuscitation were launched. They
address the issue of communication between medical teams, consultants
and patients or their families. The guidelines will be delivered to all
NHS trusts and a member of each trust board will be responsible for
Age Concern continues to look at issues of age discrimination in the
health services. Two areas it is looking at are the NHS complaints
system and the planned abolition of community health councils.