Ageism in the Health Service: Pensioner in pain says age and cost influenced care: Three 'victims' speak out as experts criticise narrow criteria determining treatment

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The Independent Online
ELLEN SWIFT, 70, is convinced that she was the victim of 'ageism' in the NHS. Like Johnnie Gray, 73, and Fred Steadman, 78, whose claims led to yesterday's row over health care rationing for the elderly, Mrs Swift says that her age influenced the level of care she received - and cost was a factor.

'A fit and active 30-year-old with the same injury would not have been treated as I was,' she said last night. Following a four-hour operation to insert a plate into her fractured thigh bone, she was discharged after eight days by the St Helier NHS Trust in Carshalton, Surrey, without any follow-up appointments or physiotherapy.

'The staff nurse on the ward had to write a letter for me to give to my GP explaining what had happened,' Mrs Swift said.

When, after six months, Mrs Swift could still not go out on her own, her daughter contacted the consultant who had treated her mother and asked if she could have some physiotherapy. She was told this was possible but posed some financial problems.

Mrs Swift did not see a physiotherapist and one year on is still walking with a stick and in constant pain from her leg. 'Often it goes limp and drags. I feel sure that physiotherapy would have helped.'

A spokeswoman for the St Helier Trust said last night that all patients were treated on the basis of clinical need.

Johnnie Gray, 73, a former band leader and saxophonist from Brighton, also missed out on physiotherapy after his regular sessions at Newhaven Downs Hospital, East Sussex, were stopped.

Mr Gray, who has chronic arthritis, said that when he telephoned the hospital he was told his age was the reason. 'I couldn't believe this. I was absolutely staggered. I said: 'I am 74 next month and I am in considerable pain.' She said: 'No, we've had this letter to say anybody over 65 couldn't have any treatment.' I suppose it is because when you have got chronic arthritis they can't cure it and, at 73, they look at you as if you are already dead,' he said.

Fred Steadman, 78, was refused treatment for chest pains at the Royal Free Hospital, north London. When his GP telephoned the hospital he was told 'they wouldn't accept me because I am over 70', Mr Steadman said.

Dr Laurence Buckman, Mr Steadman's GP, who is also a general practice spokesman for the BMA, said: 'Since contracts were introduced this kind of predicament arises all the time, not only based on age.'

Support groups and charities for the elderly said they were inundated with calls following the publicity. A spokesman for the Association of Retired Persons and Over- 50s Persons, said: 'It is anecdotal, of course, and we need to check if it is bona fide, but we have taken a lot of calls.'

Age Concern, which has demanded a government inquiry, also took many calls from worried pensioners yesterday. Sally Greengross, head of the charity said: 'It is quite appalling that people should be denied any form of treatment on a blanket statement about their age.'

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