Elderly people would be disadvantaged by proposals to measure how a patient contributes to the economy before deciding whether to fund drug treatments, according to health experts.
The government proposals would result in younger patients being given precedence, while drugs that help extend older people’s lives could be seen as having a ‘negative’ social value, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) told The Times.
NICE was asked by the Department of Health to look at how it considers the cost-effectiveness of drugs by taking into account their social benefits, such as assisting people to return to work.
However the institute has rejected the plans, with its head, Sir Andrew Dillon saying to the Times that younger people would ‘inevitably’ be given priority despite ministers insisting they won’t let older people be discriminated against.
A NICE assessment concluded that if the proposals were adopted it was inevitable that people’s ages would be taken into account ‘to some degree’.
Sir Andrew told The Times that while the department was proposing a ‘hard-nosed economic’ approach it believed the public had a ‘more subtle’ view of the impact that successful treatment can have on society.
He said: ‘We’re really concerned that we don’t send out the message that we value life less when you’re 70 than we do when you’re 20.
‘What we don’t want to say is those 10 years you have between 70 and 80, although clearly you are not going to be working, are not going to be valuable to somebody.
‘Clearly they are. You might be doing all sorts of very useful things for your family or local society.’
Sir Andrew said although some people subscribed to a view that society should prioritise investment in younger people, it wasn’t an approach NICE felt comfortable with.
NICE approves drugs that cost under £20,000 to give a year of good-quality life. It wants a similar formula to gauge what impact an illness has on a patient’s quality of life and to use it to estimate a treatment’s social benefit.
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
‘We welcome the decision by NICE. We need to look beyond someone’s age and strive for a society where people of all ages are valued equally and everyone is supported to achieve the best health and wellbeing outcomes they can.
‘It is wrong to regard older people as a burden to society and just ignore the contribution they have made throughout their life.
‘Date of birth should not be used as a proxy for health and fitness or influence decisions about what treatments should be made available.
‘Assessments of older people must be based on their individual needs and health status, not their age. Anything else is blatant age discrimination.’