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Treatment based on need not age, says BMA

Ethics leader denies doctors would exclude elderly and obese from treatment

OnMedica Staff

Monday, 28 January 2008

The BMA has hit back at media claims that some doctors would exclude older people and others from NHS treatment.

Dr Tony Calland (below), chair of the BMA's Medical Ethics Committee today said: "Someone’s age or lifestyle choices should not impact on their eligibility for NHS treatment and the BMA would be against any such moves. The BMA is against blanket bans based on age or other arbitrary factors. It is outrageous to suggest that just because someone is old that they would not have a right to be considered for treatment."

His comments come following reports that some doctors believe that older people, smokers, people who are obese or who drink heavily, should not receive NHS treatment.

Dr Tony Calland"The BMA believes decisions about NHS treatment should be based on clinical issues. For example, if someone’s weight makes an operation too risky then this would need to be discussed with the patient and perhaps they would be advised to lose weight before surgery could safely go ahead.

"Equally, if a patient’s age made them too frail to survive surgery, a decision may need to be taken to consider alternative treatment. These are clinical decisions based on individual circumstances," he added.

Dr Calland's comments follow reports that in a survey of 870 doctors (carried out by Doctor magazine) one in three said that elderly patients should not be given free treatment if it were unlikely to do them good for long.

Likewise, half thought that smokers should be denied a heart bypass, while a quarter said obese patients should be denied hip replacements.

And 94% said that an alcoholic who refused to stop drinking should not be allowed a liver transplant, while one in five said taxpayers should not pay for "social abortions" and fertility treatment.

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