Sentenced to death for being old: The NHS denies life-saving treatment to the elderly, as one man’s chilling story reveals
When Kenneth Warden was diagnosed with terminal bladder cancer, his hospital consultant sent him home to die, ruling that at 78 he was too old to treat. Even the palliative surgery or chemotherapy that could have eased his distressing symptoms were declared off-limits because of his age.
His distraught daughter Michele Halligan accepted the sad prognosis but was determined her father would spend his last months in comfort. So she paid for him to seen privately by a second doctor to discover what could be done to ease his symptoms.
Thanks to her tenacity, Kenneth got the drugs and surgery he needed — and as a result his cancer was actually cured. Four years on, he is a sprightly 82-year-old who works out at the gym, drives a sports car and competes in a rowing team.
‘You could call his recovery amazing,’ says Michele, 51. ‘It is certainly a gift. But the fact is that he was written off because of his age. He was left to suffer so much, and so unnecessarily.’
Sadly, Kenneth’s story is symptomatic of a dreadful truth. According to shocking new research by Macmillan Cancer Support, every year many thousands of older people are routinely denied life-saving NHS treatments because their doctors write them off as too old to treat.
It is often left to close family members to fight for their rights. But although it is now British law that patients must never be discriminated against on the basis of age, such battles often prove futile.
Michele’s fight began in September 2008, when her father noticed blood in his urine. His GP sent him to a consultant urologist at a hospital in the north-west of England and a large tumour was found in his bladder.
An MRI scan showed that the tumour was advanced and went through his bladder wall and muscle. A minor operation enabled Kenneth to pass urine, but left him needing to do so every 20 minutes, day and night. ‘He was exhausted by lack of sleep,’ says Michele. ‘It was making him more ill than the tumour was. The pain was like having permanent cystitis. ‘But when I asked for Dad to be given help for this, the consultant said there was no treatment available.’
Michele, who lives in Chester and is married with two children, was not satisfied. As a former midwife, she was more confident than most about attempting her own medical research on the internet. She read on one site that radiotherapy could shrink the tumour and give her father relief from his terrible symptoms. Further surgery on the bladder might help even more.
‘I was not looking for a cure, just a way to give my father some quality of life for the time he had remaining,’ she says. ‘We went back to the urologist and asked about radiotherapy. I also wanted to know why my father could not have an operation to relieve his urinary symptoms.
‘The doctor said that as my father was 78, these treatments would not be appropriate because he was “too old”.
‘But my father was very fit and muscular. He regularly went running and worked out at the gym. He was also a lifelong rower who held competition records. But all the consultant would say was: “You have to accept that your father is dying.” ‘I had no issue with the hospital — it is a very good hospital — but I could not believe the surgeon.
‘We went back to our GP, but they believed the consultant. I got the impression that I was considered an “interfering woman”.’
In desperation, the family found nearly £3,000 to pay for private tests and a second opinion from a consultant in Birmingham. ‘The private consultant agreed with me that Dad should be given chemotherapy to shrink the tumour prior to a radical cystectomy.’
This operation involves removing the bladder, surrounding lymph nodes and the prostate gland. Though neither Michele nor her father had private medical insurance, the new consultant arranged for Kenneth to have the operation on the NHS at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.
‘The treatment there was superb,’ says Michele. ‘Dad went for chemotherapy every week for nine weeks, followed by one month off. Then he went back in March 2009 and had the radical cystectomy.
‘The operation went well. We felt it would relieve so much of Dad’s anguish during the time he had left.’
But as it turned out, the chemotherapy and surgery did not just relieve his symptoms: they also banished his cancer. Now, four years after the operation, a total body scan shows Kenneth to be completely free of the disease.
Michele says: ‘He is back rowing and working out at the gym. He has enjoyed seven holidays abroad and bought himself a sports car.’
She feels strongly that her father’s case proves that elderly people are still discriminated against by the NHS, and she even reported the first consultant to the General Medical Council. ‘I said his actions constituted “pure ageism”. But they said he hadn’t acted wrongly as it was a “matter of professional opinion”.’
This kind of ‘professional opinion’ appears to be costing more than 14,000 lives each year, thanks to routine discrimination by doctors who assume older patients are too frail for surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
This is according to experts at Macmillan Cancer Support, who warned last week that every day up to 40 elderly cancer sufferers are dying needlessly because they are being denied the best treatments. This is particularly true, it says, for patients over the age of 70.
The charity estimates that if the treatment of older patients matched that on offer in the U.S., as many as 14,000 lives could be saved every year.
Discrimination against the elderly affects not only cancer treatment but goes right across the board, according to another new report.
Last week, the respected health research charity, the King’s Fund, warned that prejudice about older people means they often go without treatment for conditions such as depression, and are not even tested for illnesses such as heart disease.
This is despite huge advances in medical care which mean that patients can now successfully undergo major surgery at ages where they would not previously be expected to survive.
In America, doctors pioneering the field of ‘geriatric surgery’ regularly perform open-heart surgery on people in their 90s.
In Britain, the leading cardiac specialist unit at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge has now achieved a mortality rate of less than 1 per cent for coronary artery bypass operations, despite the fact that the average age of its patients is in the late 60s.
The Papworth patients are, however, a fortunate minority. The King’s Fund report, based on patient surveys and evidence from staff, is only the latest in a series of critical reports on elderly care.
The Patients Association and Care Quality Commission have both recently published studies detailing ‘shocking’ standards.
According to Nat Lievesley, an expert researcher into older people’s care, such attitudes should by now have been banished from the NHS because they are in fact illegal. He explains that the 2010 Equality Act outlawed age discrimination, such as age limits for treatment, in all official NHS policies.
But Lievesley, an investigator for the Centre for Policy on Ageing, says that while official rules have changed, the attitudes of individual doctors and nurses has not.
He points out that when the Equality Act was being debated in Parliament, doctors’ organisations tried to get medical decision-making exempted, ‘but this was not allowed’.
His own study on the issue, which was commissioned by the Department of Health, warns: ‘Evidence of the under-investigation and under-treatment of older people in cancer care, cardiology and stroke is so widespread and strong that we must conclude that ageist attitudes are having an effect on overall investigation and treatment levels.’
Last year, research by the National Cancer Intelligence Network found evidence of widespread age-based discrimination in the NHS on women with breast cancer.
Its study of 23,000 sufferers found that 90 per cent of those aged 30 to 50 are offered surgery to remove tumours, compared to 82 per cent of those aged 60 to 70, and 70 per cent of those in their 70s.
But Marjorie Holmes, 70, is living proof of the benefits that such surgery brings. Five years ago, the retired lecturer from Isleworth, Middlesex underwent a routine mammogram. Just before her 65th birthday, she received a letter calling her back for further examination. ‘My GP also wrote to me separately, inviting me to come in and have a chat about this, which was very kind,’ she says.
The mammography consultation revealed that there were two suspicious areas on Marjorie’s breast. These were investigated, found to be cancerous and removed.
Nowadays, Marjorie regularly goes walking and enjoys yoga, pilates and line dancing. ‘In many ways my life has become better now than it was before the cancer,’ she says. ‘I always used to be anxious about the future and the past. Now I focus on enjoying today.’
Modern treatment such as this has given Marjorie a completely new lease of life. The tragedy is that many doctors are simply too eager to throw such older people onto the scrap heap.
Ban on the cane in British schools ‘left schools unable to impose discipline and led to deterioration in children’s behaviour’
The scrapping of the cane has led to a deterioration in children’s behaviour at school, according to teachers.
Sanctions available to schools since corporal punishment was abolished 25 years ago are ‘totally inadequate’ at reasserting authority in the classroom and lack the same deterrent effect, they said yesterday.
While rejecting a return to the cane, members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers condemned existing sanctions such as detention and suspension.
‘Novel’ punishments are needed to allow teachers to reassert their authority in the classroom, they said.
Delegates at the association’s annual conference voted unanimously for research into ‘effective’ disciplinary methods.
‘When corporal punishment was abolished nothing was put in its place that had equivalent deterrent powers,’ said Julian Perfect, a teacher from London.
Laws forbidding state schools from using the cane or slipper to discipline pupils were introduced in 1987, and a decade later in independent schools.
But Mr Perfect pointed out that subsequent governments had failed to give teachers sufficient sanctions.
He added that while teachers have statutory authority to discipline pupils whose behaviour is unacceptable, governments have failed to suggest methods for making authority ‘meaningful’.
Suspensions and expulsions were now handed out all too rarely amid pressure on schools to reduce the number of pupils who are excluded from school, the conference also heard.
Research by the teachers’ association suggested pupil behaviour had declined further in recent years.
Responding to one of its surveys, a teacher said: ‘The children know that our hands are tied and play up frequently. ‘In the past two years, we have only successfully permanently excluded one pupil. It is the good students whose education is being wrecked that I feel for.’
Another said: ‘Persistent low-level rudeness and disruption seems to have become a fact of life in education today and no longer raises eyebrows or seems to merit special attention.’
A third reported: ‘I had a female student threaten to kick the smile off my face, in front of a whole class.’
The association’s general secretary Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘Sanctions do have to be something students don’t want to have to endure. ‘We’re not saying at all that children should fear teachers but they should respect them. ‘If they go beyond the bounds of respecting a teacher there should be sanctions. ‘And those sanctions should be something children would rather not face.’
Proposing a motion aimed at tackling poor behaviour in the classroom, Mr Perfect said: ‘This does not seek the reinstatement of corporal punishment but rather the identification of additional forms of sanction.’
Jean Roberts, who teaches at Old Oak Primary, London told the conference: ‘We need more research into behaviour management particularly sanctions that work, are equitable and can be used widely in schools supported by governments and parents. ‘We have to ensure more of our classes are not disrupted but are places of real learning for all.’
Britain’s featherbrained equalities minister
Lynne Featherstone is no Einstein. To say the Equalities Minister is of average parliamentary intelligence might be stretching the evidence. Even her colleagues in the Liberal Democrat party call her ‘Lynne Featherbrain’.
She is by some distance the Coalition Government’s weakest link. Television quiz show piranha Anne Robinson would make very, very short work of her.
It may, therefore, be regarded as a misfortune for the Government that this gum-brained specimen, this most palpable parliamentary dingbat, is the officer in charge of two hot political controversies (gay marriage and the right of Christians to wear a cross at work), which has put her at loggerheads with the Anglican and Catholic Churches.
In this confrontation, she resembles a nocturnal nudist caught in the headlights of a speeding lorry — part-comical, part agonising, likely to end in a squeal of brakes and nasty bruises.
Mrs Featherstone is in an intellectual muddle, though she does not seem to know it. Well, there’s a surprise! On gay marriage, the divorced mother of two presents herself as the champion of tolerance. Yet on the wearing of crosses, she is completely the opposite — so intolerant that she is using Government lawyers to fight her corner.
As the Mail discloses today, the latest legal document dispatched by her ministry dares to state crosses aren’t even part of Christian observance — and that if anyone wants to wear a cross at work where they are outlawed, well, tough, they can simply find another job. Not even Norman Tebbit in his heyday was that blunt.
The case is part of the Government’s fight in the European Court of Human Rights arguing against the right of Christians to wear a cross at work.
It involves two cases: a British Airways check-in assistant who was suspended after refusing to remove her small cross; and a nurse from Exeter who was not allowed to work on hospital wards unless she took off the cross she wore on a necklace.
In opposing these church-going women, Mrs Featherstone is going to the European Court of Human Rights (one of her favourite outfits) to argue against, of all bodies, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (another of her pet state organisations for which she has ministerial responsibility). The Commission, run by her old and very good friend Trevor Phillips, is supporting the rights of Christians.
What a tangle. Government minister fights state quango in a foreign court that we help to fund. British taxpayers are being stiffed at each and every expensive turn of the saga. And all concerning an invented controversy over tiny crosses that offend no one.
So who is this ‘Featherbrain’? Who created this embarrassment? Why is she still a minister? Though she was born in 1951, some feel she looks younger. Some might attribute her youthfulness to natural bounce or the redeeming qualities of whatever seaweed-yoghurty unguent the intensely fashion-conscious Lynne slaps on her pelt of an evening before retiring to her candle-scented lair.
Mrs Featherstone, who is of Jewish stock and whose family made its fortune from the Ryness electrical shops, is Lib Dem MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, a London seat previously held by an able (but unglamorous) Labour minister, Barbara Roche.
Mrs Featherstone’s 7,000 majority is testament to her skill as a local campaigner. She is regarded as a ‘good constituency MP’. But ‘good constituency MPs’ do not always, or often, make good ministers.
She owes her ministerial job officially to Nick Clegg, who had responsibility for picking the Lib Dem ministers once the Coalition was formed in 2010.
She and Mr Clegg are not particularly close, though. One hears that the Deputy PM views her as a liability and regrets not giving the job to someone with a bit less cotton-wool between her ears. Mrs Featherstone supported Chris Huhne in the Lib Dem leadership election, running his campaign. With such an intellect in command of his push for votes, it is perhaps no wonder the poor chap lost.
Now that Mr Huhne is out of Government (while he fights motoring offence charges), Mrs Featherstone may be vulnerable.
There are many Lib Dem MPs who think they could do the job better than her. Her stance on Christianity, while classically metropolitan, is unlikely to endear her to David Cameron in the week he spoke of a ‘Christian fightback’.
Her handling of the gay weddings controversy has been clumsy. Asserting her determination to have gay marriage on the statute book by 2015, she has attacked Church leaders for fanning ‘the flames of homophobia’ in the way some of them have opposed gay marriage. She went out of her way to proclaim her ‘liberalism’ and to deplore the ‘inflammatory language’ of bishops.
Speaking as one who happens to be relaxed about gay marriage, I would respectfully suggest that the ‘flame-fanning’ may have been done by the Government in coming up with this policy in the first place.
Perhaps that was the whole point of it, strategically, for the Coalition. Perhaps the Government intended to provoke a reaction from the Churches. That would ratchet up the controversy — and show opinion-formers at the BBC and in the Left-wing Press how ‘go-ahead’ and liberal the Government is.
A charitable reading of Lynne Featherstone might be that simply by occupying that berth at the Home Office, she helps to remind the voters, albeit in a daffy way, that this Government is a Centrist enterprise and not some extreme Tory regime.
But with tame Christians being tormented by the Government machine, there surely comes a time when the Featherstone joke has gone far enough. David Cameron and Nick Clegg must surely realise that the presence of such a lame performer in their junior ranks brings discredit to Parliament and makes Her Majesty’s Government look foolish.
BBC bias again
How many listeners, I wonder, were as baffled as I was by one of the main items on yesterday morning’s Today programme on BBC Radio 4, which went on to lead the nine o’clock news?
Clearly, the show’s producers believed they had stumbled on a shocking case of ministerial wrongdoing. But whichever way I looked at it, the only surprising thing they appeared to have uncovered was that a minister had done the job he’s paid for — and done it quickly, cheaply and well, for a change.
Indeed, I believe this was an absolutely classic example of the BBC’s semi-conscious bias — a textbook illustration of the way in which it moulds its reporting to fit its own world view, while only half-realising that it is saying anything controversial. But I’ll let you be the judge of that.
For those who missed it, the item began with a woman reporter telling us that back in February, an unnamed Downing Street source had been quoted as saying that Health Secretary Andrew Lansley should be ‘taken out and shot’ for his handling of the NHS reforms.
‘It was quickly contradicted by No 10,’ she intoned (balance, you see), ‘but this was a very low point for the Secretary of State for Health.’ Then, in a voice laden with accusation and ironic intent, she added: ‘Two weeks later, the headlines were much better.’
What had brought about this transformation, tut-tutted Today’s Sanchia Berg, was Mr Lansley’s response to a newspaper investigation that found doctors in specialist clinics (I’ll tell you which type in a moment) were systematically breaking the law on an epic scale.
First, he wrote an article warning health professionals that they were ‘not above the law’ (how dare he, eh?). Then he asked the official regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), to conduct snap investigations of 300 of these clinics over three days.
Sure enough, the regulator found that 50 were in criminal breach of their statutory duty to their patients. The police are investigating and several doctors have been referred to the General Medical Council for possible disciplinary action.
Are you shocked, yet, by Mr Lansley’s behaviour? Nor me. But now we reach the nub of the BBC’s charge against him.
Through a Freedom of Information request, Ms Berg tells us — and I wonder who tipped off Today to ask — the Corporation has obtained a letter from the chairwoman of the CQC to the finance director of the Department of Health.
In it, Dame Jo Williams complains that the Secretary of State’s urgent request for the investigation of the clinics meant nearly 600 planned inspections of care homes and hospitals would have to be ‘forgone’ (by which she must surely have meant postponed).
The request had had a ‘considerable impact’ on the regulator’s capacity to deliver its targets, she says. Furthermore, it cost an estimated £1 million (which the Health Department says Mr Lansley would have given her, if only she’d asked).
In case listeners were too thick to see what the BBC was driving at, Today’s producers helpfully wheeled on the Shadow Health Secretary to make the point for them.
Andy Burnham duly accused Mr Lansley of wasting money and disrupting the CQC’s work of safeguarding the vulnerable. And all for the sake of ‘chasing headlines’ to redeem his reputation after the disaster of the NHS reforms.
So far, so strange. A newspaper uncovers widespread criminality in health clinics. The minister responsible requests an immediate investigation, which takes only three days and costs a mere £1 million — less than one ten-millionth of the Health Department’s £105 billion budget.
The scandal is stamped out, the guilty face punishment . . . and instead of patting the Health Secretary on the back, the BBC swoops down on him like an avenging angel, flaming with wrath.
Indeed, the tone is set from the very opening words of the report, with that spurious reminder that someone had said the poor fellow should be taken out and shot. In my trade, this kind of reporting is known as a ‘hatchet job’. The question is: why is Auntie so angry with Mr Lansley?
I reckon I know exactly why. For unless I’m much mistaken, the one and only reason why the BBC went for Mr Lansley’s throat and thought it worth leading its news bulletins with the story is that the criminal behaviour on which he clamped down with such swiftness and efficiency was taking place in abortion clinics. And as we all know, the free availability of abortions is a central tenet of progressive thought, and therefore of the BBC.
The law states clearly that before a termination can take place, a consent form must be signed by the pregnant woman’s supervising consultant and a second professional, who has either seen her or studied her case history. This is partly so that no woman should go through what can be a traumatic procedure without first having discussed it with somebody qualified, who knows about her.
It’s almost as though the ‘progressive’ BBC can’t imagine that anyone would oppose the free availability of abortions
It’s almost as though the ‘progressive’ BBC can’t imagine that anyone would oppose the free availability of abortions
The Press investigation found, and the CQC confirmed, that in many clinics, doctors who knew nothing about the patient were leaving stacks of pre-signed forms for others to fill in her details. In other words, they were offering abortion on demand, which is banned by law.
Homosexual politician attacks British Government plans to allow same-sex couples to “marry”
One of Britain’s first openly gay MPs has criticised Government plans to allow same-sex couples to get married as a petition opposing the move has attracted more than 400,000 signatures.
Former Labour minister Ben Bradshaw said the controversial move was ‘pure politics’ and insisted that Britain’s gay community did not need the word ‘marriage’.
His comments came as the petition on the No 10 website which supports keeping the institution of marriage between husbands and wives went over the 400,000 mark.
The petition, launched by the Coalition for Marriage (C4M), has now been signed by more people than voted in last year’s local elections in either Birmingham or Manchester.
Mr Bradshaw, who is in a civil partnership, said that Mr Cameron was pushing through the plans in a bid to show how the Conservative party has modernised.
He told the Washington Post: ‘This is more of David Cameron trying to drag the Conservatives kicking and screaming into the modern world.’
Mr Bradshaw insisted that Labour would support the plans, but he added: ‘This is pure politics on their part. This isn’t a priority for the gay community, which already won equal rights with civil partnerships.
‘We’ve never needed the word “marriage”, and all it’s done now is get a bunch of bishops hot under the collar. We’ve been pragmatic, not making the mistake they have in the U.S., where the gay lobby has banged on about marriage.’
MPs are to be given a free vote on the plans in an attempt to stop a revolt by Tory traditionalists who are furious over the idea, which they say will redefine the institution of marriage.
The Government launched a consultation on the gay marriage plan, which could see the term ‘husband and wife’ officially axed from marriage laws, last month.
Scotland’s Roman Catholic leader Cardinal Keith O’Brien recently caused controversy when the said gay marriage went against ‘natural law’.
A recent poll by ComRes found that 70 per cent of the public believe the Government should keep the current definition of marriage.
Colin Hart, C4M’s campaign director, said: ‘The campaign is going from strength to strength and there is no sign of a slowdown in the number people adding their names to the petition.
‘I welcome the comments by Mr Bradshaw, who has hit the nail on the head when he said that the Government is playing “pure politics” with this issue.
‘Civil Partnerships already give the same legal rights to same sex couples that marriage gives to heterosexual couples. This squashes the Government’s major argument for forcing through this change.’
Bottoms banned in Britain
“The American Apparel clothing chain has been warned against using exploitative images of women after a watchdog ruled a series of ads were likely to cause ‘serious and widespread offence’.
Eight ads on the retailer’s website and in a free magazine in October showed women modelling knickers, socks and sweaters in various poses that exposed their breasts or buttocks.
One showed a woman arching her back towards the camera with her breasts exposed, others showed models lying face down or on their side revealing buttocks and breasts while more images were of models with their legs apart while on a bed.
One person complained that the images were pornographic, exploitative of women and inappropriately sexualised young women.
American Apparel rejected the complaint, saying the images featured ‘real, non-airbrushed, everyday people’, and that the vast majority of them were not professional models.
They said the images were the sort that people regularly shared with their friends on social networks and which normal people could relate to.
The retailer added that the women who featured in the images were clearly in their twenties, and emphasised that they were ‘happy, relaxed and confident in expression and pose’ and were not portrayed in a vulnerable, negative or exploitative manner.
Defending the campaign, American Apparel told the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that it believed it was ‘important to judge what was and was not offensive by reference to the current times and the views of the majority of decent and reasonable people, not a small and puritanically-minded minority’.
Upholding the complaint for all but one of the images, the ASA acknowledged ads for lingerie were reasonable to feature women in limited amounts of clothing, but the nature of the women’s poses meant that their breasts and buttocks were the focal points rather than the products.
The ASA said: ‘We considered that in the particular context of images which featured nudity and sexually provocative poses, there was a voyeuristic and ‘amateurish’ quality to the images which served to heighten the impression that the ads were exploitative of women and inappropriately sexualised young women.