Don’t make coronavirus treatment decisions solely based on age, charities urge

Decisions over which coronavirus patients should receive priority treatment should not be based solely on age or care home residence, charities have said.

Blanket decisions solely based on a patient’s age would be “completely unacceptable” and discriminatory, said a coalition of organisations for older people.

It would also be discriminatory to use people’s care home residence as a proxy for their health status, they argue, and blanket policies on hospital admission based on this factor would be “unfair”.

Anecdotally, charities are aware of suggestions in certain areas that care home residents will not be admitted to hospital if they have Covid-19, and only in exceptional circumstances for other reasons.

The nine signatories include Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Independent Age, Donald Macaskill, chief executive of Scottish Care, and the Commissioners for Older People in Wales and Northern Ireland.

They said in a joint statement: “Any suggestion that treatment decisions can be blanket ones, based on age alone or with a person’s age given undue weight as against other factors, such as their usual state of health and capacity to benefit from treatment, would be completely unacceptable.

“For many years we have known that chronological age is a very poor proxy for an individual’s health status and resilience – something we all see among the older people in our lives.

“To ignore this and to revert to an approach based solely or mainly on age would be, by definition, ageist, discriminatory and morally wrong.”

Instead, assessments should continue to be made on a case-by-case basis through honest discussion with the patient, their family and relevant professionals.

They added: “There is no reason to abandon this long-established good practice now; in fact the current health emergency makes it more critical than ever that we keep it.”