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Warning against surgery age limits
Thousands of elderly patients are needlessly dying because they are being denied treatment on the grounds of their age, a report has found.
Surgical treatments, which can prolong life and improve living standards for older patients, have been shown to steadily decline as patients get older, the research suggests.
But as the population ages and people are living longer lives, doctors have a "moral duty" to properly care for older patients, according to the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).
They said that surgeons should no longer look at a patient's age to assume whether they are suitable for surgery, instead their overall health should be taken into consideration, according the report which was conducted by the RCS, Age UK and MHP Health Mandate.
The report found that surgery rates decline for people as they grow older for a number of treatments including breast cancer operations, joint replacements, prostate cancer treatments and hernias.
While the incidence of breast cancer peaks in patients aged 85 and older, surgery rates decline sharply from the age of 70, the figures indicate. Pensioners are the main group to receive hip and knee replacements but the rates of surgery in England dropped sharply in patients over the age of 70, according to the data which examines the number of operations between 2008 and 2011.
The research also found the number of patients who receive treatment for prostate cancer plummets after after patients reach the age of 70.
Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said "When it comes to peoples' health, their date of birth actually tells you very little. A healthy living 80-year-old could run rings round someone many years younger who does not share the same good health. Yet in the past, too many medical decisions we believe have been made on age alone with informal cut-offs imposed so that people over a certain age were denied treatment.
"This report shows the large gap between the number of people living with a condition or health need and the surgery rates to treat older people. We would like surgeons and other health professionals to read this report carefully and examine what they can do to ensure that age discrimination is eradicated from the NHS, as legislation now demands."
NHS Confederation chief executive Mike Farrar said: "Age discrimination is not only illegal but goes against all the principles and values of the NHS. Access to NHS services should always be based first and foremost on clinical need, not on age."