Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

We must end ageism and age discrimination in health and social care

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Age discrimination can take several forms: the failure to afford older people sufficient respect, choice and control – described in numerous reports, most recently by the Delivering Dignity Commission – or the attitudes towards, language about and labelling of older people, who are often written off as ‘acopic’ or ‘bed blocking’. Some services and system rules are skewed in favour of the young, with far worse access and quality for older people in services like mental health and psychological therapies. And some conditions largely affecting older people (eg, dementia, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis or incontinence) receive systematically worse attention and treatment than those equally common in mid-life.

On 29.5.13 David Oliver Visiting Fellow at The Kings Fund posted an interesting blog with the above title. Dr Oliver states that “Older people (unlike minority groups at risk of discrimination – eg, people with learning disabilities) account for the most activity and expenditure in health services, and will continue to do so, as the recent Lords’ report Ready for Ageing, made clear. They are in effect a ‘disadvantaged majority’. The care of older people – often with frailty, dementia and complex co-morbidities – is now ‘core business’ and a major part of the jobs of most staff working in health and care. It is key to transforming the way we deliver care, as the recent report on transforming the delivery of health and social care by The King’s Fund sets out.”

He goes on “It’s sad that older people should need any special legal protection. Even the minority who are frail, demented, dependent or dying are fully contributing citizens. They are not somehow ‘other’ and generally have the same expectations of wellbeing and health services as younger people.”

I agree wholeheartedly with most of what Dr Oliver says and am aware that whilst there may not be overt discrimination against the ‘mature’ there is covert discrimination, in health care, the well used ‘pat on the shoulder, it is your age my dear’ is still very common. Our difficulty is identifying a workable solution. Changing attitudes by legislation does not work and changing attitudes in the current frenetic NHS/Social Care agendas is very slow work as our project has demonstrated.

We need a national awareness raising and education programme targeting healthcare professionals that contains information about the tremendous contributions charities and in particular projects like our peer support advocacy project make to improving the lot of older people receiving health services. This may then go some way to dispelling some myths held by many healthcare professionals that they are the only people who can effectively support older people with health problems, that trained volunteers, for example are unable to offer effective support services and finally that speaking out when things go wrong in health services is something to be wary of.

Advocates support older people to speak out when they receive less than desirable treatment and care and expect improvements to be made as a result of this.Healthcare professionals should welcome this as a means of continually improving services for all older people. Health professionals need to work much more closely with their colleagues in the Voluntary sector to ensure that personalised services for older people become a reality and that local communities are encouraged to work in partnership to provide seamless, quality services, this is particularly so in times of transition from home to hospital and return to home, or residential care. If Dr Oliver has any thoughts ideas as to how this might be achieved I and our partners delivering effective volunteer advocacy services would love to speak with him.

To read the full blog from Dr Oliver see here http://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2013/05/we-must-end-ageism-and-age-discrimination-health-and-social-care

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Author: kathparson

Chief Executive of Older People's Advocacy Alliance (UK)

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