Does NHS Abandon Elderly to Cancer Death?

by Wesley J. Smith

Well, this is eyebrow raising. A charity that advocates on behalf of the elderly in the UK is alleging that the NHS appears to be offering less quality cancer treatment to oldsters than to younger patients. From the Daily Mail story:

Pensioners with cancer are being written off as too old to treat, campaigners said yesterday. They cited figures showing survival rates for British patients aged 75 and over are among the worst in Europe.

Young lung cancer sufferers are only 10 per cent more likely to die within five years than their continental counterparts. But pensioners with the disease have 44 per cent less chance of survival. The figure for stomach cancer – at 45 per cent – is even worse…

Ciarán Devane, of Macmillan Cancer Support, which helped produce the figures, said: ‘It’s wrong to write off older people as too old for treatment. With a proper assessment and appropriate treatment, our research shows that many older cancer patients can live for a long time and can even be cured.

The NHS rations under the “quality adjusted life year” (QALY) system. In other words, the life of a patient with a deemed “lower” quality is treated as having less value than the life of a person with a “high” quality of life for purposes of cost/benefit analysis.

This means that a “higher” person may receive efficacious treatment denied the ”lower” person–even though it would help both.

This is the kind of thing we could face here if current trends continue, particularly with Obamacare. Indeed, the New England Journal of Medicine has already advocated imposing a QALY system in the USA.