CAMPAIGNS: Ageism in the health services - Charities

Client: Age Concern

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Ageism in the NHS

Timescale: Spring 1999-ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

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

health service.


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

their implementation.

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.

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