May 28, 2015 by Bill Johnson
The NHS will be forced to discriminate against the over 70s to meet ‘highly unethical’ UN health targets which seek to reduce premature deaths in younger people, senior medics have warned.
Under the proposed Sustainable Development Goals, UN member states must cut the number of deaths from diseases like cancer, stroke, diabetes and dementia by one third by 2030.
However because many are age-related illnesses people who succumb to those diseases from the age of 70 are not deemed to have died prematurely and so are not included in the target.
In an open letter published in The Lancet, an international group of ageing specialists say the new guideline sends out the message that health provision for younger groups must be prioritised at the expense of older people.
Prof Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, professor of social policy and international development at the University of East Anglia, and lead author of the letter, said: “This premature mortality target is highly unethical, since it unjustifiably discriminates against older people.
“We already know that there is age discrimination in cancer care and surgery and these targets give that the stamp of approval.
“The targets are not quite set in stone yet, so we have a final opportunity to impress upon the UN the need to alter this explicitly ageist health target.
“If this doesn’t happen, people aged 70 and over will become second-class citizens as far as health policy is concerned.”
The letter warns that the UN target: “has the potential to undermine cherished, fundamental principles of universality and health as a right for all.”
“Put simply, it tells policy makers, particularly in poorer countries that older people do not matter,” the signatories warn.
Others who have signed include ageing experts from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University as well as representatives of The Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK, and HelpAge International.
Baroness Sally Greengross, former director of Age Concern England who also signed the letter said: “If adopted, this UN target could lead to institutionalised discrimination against older people in health care, both here in the UK and globally.
“This target will inevitably reinforce the ageist bias that pervades many aspects of health care decision-making.”
The Sustainable Development Goals which are due to come into effect later this year, replace the Millenium Development Goals which ran up to 2015 and include ambitions for climate change, health care, development and policy.
If the target was met, around 42,000 lives would be saved each year for the under 70s. However if older people were included in the target an extra 130,000 lives would be saved.
Although the guidelines are not binding, health experts warn that the UN is likely to take a dim view of countries who fail to comply.