Doctors who choose to reject the old

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The Independent Online
LEGAL MEASURES to combat age discrimination in the National Health Service and in financial services could be proposed in Parliament next year, campaigners say.

The charity Age Concern, which made an impact earlier this year with an "age discrimination week", hopes to persuade sympathetic MPs to push through the moves by amending government Bills.

It says elderly people face being struck off by doctors because they may require costly treatment, and sometimes find that when they are ill they do not receive the same care as a younger person. Routine breast- cancer screening stops at 64. Pensioners also find it more difficult to get car insurance, mortgages and cheap credit.

Age Concern says a new voluntary code of practice on discrimination at work is unlikely to go far enough. Before the election, Labour promised legislation on the issue. However, a private member's Bill brought by Linda Perham, the Labour MP for Ilford North, was talked out.

Jonathan Stearn, the charity's public affairs manager, said Bills about to be published on primary health and financial regulation could be amendable to protect the elderly.

"We have heard of examples where people have had coronaries in their early seventies, and their relatives have heard doctors pleading with the coronary unit to treat them, saying they are quite young for their age. Rehabilitation units discriminate against older people. That is what we want to see stamped out," he said.

According to Age Concern, 40 per cent of post heart-attack rehabilitation programmes impose age limits on admissions, along with 20 per cent of coronary care units. Four out of ten coronary units have age limits on the use of anti-clotting drugs after heart attacks, and two-thirds of kidney patients in their seventies are not accepted for dialysis or transplants.

Arthur Bridgeman, 80, of Southampton, and his wife, Barbara, received letters from their GP's surgery, where they had been registered for more than 30 years, saying they lived too far away to be treated there. Both are fit and healthy for their age. But their doctor had retired and his replacement objected to treating them.

"We had both reached the age of 80 and to me, that felt suspicious. The surgery is about 20 minutes' walk from our house, and the other doctor never had any trouble coming to us," Mr Bridgeman said.

In the financial services sector, Age Concern has heard from a number of pensioners who have been refused deals because of their age. One woman in Hertfordshire was told she could have interest-free credit to buy a settee and a chair, only to have the offer withdrawn when she revealed that she was in her seventies.

A man who asked his bank for a pounds 15,000 mortgage had his request turned down, but was offered a much more expensive loan. The same bank later offered his granddaughter abigger mortgage, although she had no permanent job.

Age discrimination does not only affect pensioners. People in their forties often have trouble finding work. Linda Johnson, now 46, was made redundant last year after 25 years as a foreign exchange broker. She says when her company made cutbacks it targeted the over-forties.

Despite her experience Mrs Johnson could not find a suitable full-time job. She signed on with 20 agencies to no avail, and eventually took a part-time secretarial job.

"I went to one place where no one was over 25. I saw job specs which said they would suit people in their twenties or thirties," she said. "Everyone has got to be young these days."