Reposted from Mail on line
First they came for the unemployed, then they came for the disabled and now it seem they (the tories) are after the pensioners.
When I was a child in the Sixties, very old people were relatively uncommon. A great-uncle who was nearly 80 seemed unimaginably ancient. Seventy-five was considered a very decent lifespan.
One of the paradoxes of modern Britain is that although life expectancy has greatly increased, and there are consequently many more old people, they are in many ways less respected and valued than they used to be.
It’s often said that ‘baby boomers’ — those people born between the end of World War II and 1964 — have somehow bagged all the ‘goodies’ and enjoy financial advantages denied to younger generations. I very much doubt whether this is true.
It can scarcely be disputed that people in their 70s, 80s and 90s are increasingly made to feel they are part of a burdensome minority which is more or less surplus to requirement.
What is particularly disturbing is that the kind of prejudice expressed recently by Jeremy Paxman — who said Britain has too many elderly people, and that there should be a Dignitas clinic ‘on every street corner’ — is now widely shared, particularly by the agencies of the State.
It’s an interesting reflection that if Paxo had said he hated Africans, the disabled or even the young, there would have been an uproar. But the elderly are easy game, and he can be rude about them with impunity.
He may have been joking, but it was in poor taste to say the least — particularly given that only a few weeks earlier the House of Lords had debated Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, which raises the prospect of overbearing relatives putting pressure on the elderly to do away with themselves for fear of being a burden.
Two stories this week have served to illustrate just how much the elderly are increasingly viewed as a soft target for those who believe that younger people, who have not contributed so much to society, should take precedence in many areas of life.
First, we read that GP surgeries have struck off thousands of elderly patients — without their family doctor even being consulted — after they failed to respond to letters asking them to confirm their name and address within two months.
Then, yesterday, the Mail reported how a report commissioned by The King’s Fund think tank had recommended that benefits for well-off pensioners should be axed to pay for radical reform of Britain’s broken care system.
One particularly shocking recent story in this vein described how nurses are going to the homes of elderly people they have never met before and asking if they’d consent to a ‘do not resuscitate’ order.
Perfectly healthy over-75s, as well as patients with conditions that put them at risk of needing to go to hospital unexpectedly, are being targeted by NHS England. They’re asked a number of fairly innocuous questions before the district nurse bowls a bouncer about resuscitation.
If I were an elderly person in good shape, living by myself, and a strange nurse came into my house and inquired whether I wished to be resuscitated, I might well feel that she knew something about my health that I didn’t. It is a crass, presumptuous and insensitive thing to ask.
Now the NHS’s Chief Nursing Officer for England, Jane Cummings, says that the question will be reviewed in the light of Press criticisms. We’ll see. What will not change, we may be sure, is the NHS’s condescending and sometimes callous attitude towards the elderly.
It was the NHS, after all, that operated the now defunct ‘Liverpool Care Pathway’ without bothering to tell the general public anything about it. The pathway speeded up the death of very ill, often elderly, patients. Doctors raised concerns that it was being used to free up beds.
Times gone by: The Sixties were a time dominated by youth and change; but the old now have a raw deal
According to Professor Patrick Pullicino, a consultant neurologist, speaking in 2012, the practice was employed by doctors as a form of euthanasia of the elderly. He claimed that far too often, patients who could live longer were placed on the pathway, so that it became ‘an assisted death pathway rather than a care pathway’.
A couple of years ago, doctors proposed putting an elderly friend of mine on this sinister conveyor belt, on the grounds that she was very close to death. Fortunately, her family had read about it and objected. She lived more than two months longer, enjoying many happy times.
The Liverpool Care Pathway may have been junked but the assumptions behind it haven’t been.
There’s plenty of evidence, for instance, that older cancer patients are less likely to receive treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. This may sometimes be justifiable, since over-treatment is as undesirable as under-treatment.
But according to recent research by Macmillan Cancer Support with Monitor Deloitte and Public Health England, those aged 75 or over are five times less likely to be offered life-saving surgery for lung cancer than the young, even if they are in good health and the cancer hasn’t spread.
After the publication of the report, Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan, said: ‘I just cannot comprehend why healthy, older lung-cancer patients are given less life-saving surgery than younger patients, despite the fact that they could survive for many years afterwards.’ In truth, there is no real mystery about the NHS’s discriminatory attitude. Earlier this year, the Department of Health produced proposals that would involve medical staff taking into account whether there was a ‘wider social benefit’ to giving a patient crucial medicine.
This raised the prospect that younger people would be deemed a higher priority for drug treatments because they had more years ahead of them — potentially contributing more to the economy than the elderly.
Such transparently brutal calculations unsettled even the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the NHS rationing body that has been accused of denying older patients costly drug treatments.
Its chief executive, Sir Andrew Dillon, suggested the proposals would lead to older patients being penalised. But he let the cat out of the bag by admitting: ‘There are lots of people who adopt the fair-innings approach: “You’ve had 70 years of life — you’ve got to accept society is going to bias its investments in younger people.”’
Row: Jeremy Paxman, who recently left Newsnight, said there should be a Dignitas ‘on every street corner’
Under a law introduced in 2012, it’s actually illegal for NHS staff to deny surgery based on age. Nonetheless, a recent analysis by the Royal College of Surgeons revealed that 17 so-called ‘clinical commissioning groups’ (out of 211 in England) didn’t offer any breast-cancer operations to patients over 75 last year.
Money in the NHS is obviously tight, and it’s clear that in some cases the elderly are having to go to the back of the queue.
One well-known cancer doctor has been very candid. Professor Karol Sikora said expensive drugs should be rationed for the old and frail in favour of people in their prime. Oncologists, he said, were being ‘bombarded by anti-ageist sentiment’.
However heartless this may sound, at least he was lifting the lid on a scandal the Government will not admit. The elderly are being deprived of their fair share of resources that are coming under increasing pressure.
This is objectionable for two reasons. In the first place, old people have spent a lifetime paying taxes, not to mention making a contribution to society, and they are surely entitled to as good a standard of healthcare as is available to everyone else. Besides, what kind of society doesn’t care for its old?
The same NHS that carried out 790 breast-enhancement operations in 2012, at a cost to the taxpayer of some £3.5 million, didn’t offer breast cancer operations to patients over 75 in 17 clinical commissioning groups. Isn’t it crazy, as well as immoral, to treat this generation like Old Age Pariahs?
The NHS may be the chief villain but it’s certainly not the only one. In several ways, the tax system punishes those who have built up savings — and gives them very little back if they fall on hard times.
It’s true that under this Government, the State pension has escaped the cuts applied to parts of the welfare budget, though it remains pretty meagre in comparison with many European countries.
But if pensions have kept pace in the age of austerity, the Government has reneged on its promise that old people will not have to sell their homes to meet the exorbitant cost of care homes.
A ‘deferred payment’ scheme, which allows people to keep their home if they need to go into residential care, will only apply as a matter of course to those who have other assets (apart from their house) of less than £23,250. Other pensioners will have to stump up. The Government has estimated that 40,000 people a year will be forced to sell their family home to pay for care costs.
Deeper significance: The growing prominence of the Dignitas clinic (pictured) shows changing attitudes
And when it comes to inheritance tax, if you’re lucky enough to have
something to hand on to your children when you die, the taxman will step in to claim his 40 per cent share above a threshold of £325,000 on the value of a single estate.
Though house prices have soared in many parts of the country, and inflation has taken its toll, the £325,000 figure has remained unchanged throughout the lifetime of this Parliament. As a result, an increasing number of people who don’t regard themselves as at all rich face the prospect of having their savings raided when they die.
If that were not bad enough, should Labour win the election, or govern with the Lib Dems, it is certain that a mansion tax will be introduced on homes deemed to be worth more than £2 million. This may sound like a lot of money, but any number of old people live in expensive houses they bought for small sums 40 or 50 years ago.
One way or another, the State regards the elderly as cash cows to be squeezed and pumped wherever possible. Yet when these same people ask the State for help, they discover it may not be forthcoming.
Not long ago, an elderly friend who wasn’t far from death said to me: ‘Don’t get old.’ The trouble is that almost all of us do, including Professor Karol Sikora and Jeremy Paxman.
I hope the NHS looks after us in our dotage, and the State leaves us a decent portion of our savings — and something to pass on to our children. But in modern Britain, I wouldn’t count on it.