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We Must Avert This 'Miserable Crisis' for Older People

17/03/2013 12:59 GMT | Updated 18/05/2013 10:12 BST

Many government reports are couched in conservative language, striking a cautious tone. Not so the House of Lords' new report on the challenges of the UK's ageing population.

The government and society are "woefully underprepared" to deal with the expected surge in the number of older people. Without urgent action, we face a series of "miserable crises". Sadly, there is no crass sensationalism going on here: the issue is painfully real, and very urgent indeed.

The recent Ready for Ageing? report, lists just some of the challenges that ageing presents our health and social care system: the number of over-65s with dementia is predicted to increase by over 80% by 2030; the number with arthritis, coronary heart disease or stroke by more than 50%; diabetes by more than 45%. But there is a glaring omission from this list: cancer.

In terms of growth in the number of older people affected, cancer is likely to eclipse all of these conditions. Over the next 20 years the number of over-65s living with cancer will more than double, from around 1.3 million in 2010 to close to 3 million by 2030. Today, around one in eight over-65s will have received a cancer diagnosis; by 2030, this will be more like one in five. The Lords report warns older people that they should be concerned about the quality of care they may receive in the future, and this is particularly true for those with cancer.

Research conducted as part of Macmillan's Age Old Excuse campaign shows that nearly half of healthcare professionals involved in the treatment of cancer patients believe ageist attitudes amongst their colleagues are preventing older patients from receiving the most effective care. From being less likely to be assigned a dedicated clinical nurse specialist to not receiving the right kind of information about treatment side-effects, older cancer patients face too many obstacles based - erroneously - on their chronological age.

As Ready for Ageing? points out, age alone is no longer a good indicator of people's needs or income. Nor should it be the sole basis for clinical decisions about investigations or treatment for cancer.

The Lords committee behind the report calls on the government to develop a new basis for health and social care for our ageing population, and to create a vision so that other decision-makers can work to bring it about. Cancer must be at the heart of this vision, firmly alongside dementia and other scourges of old age. If it is not, we will fail to avert the crisis looming in our future.

For more information on Macmillan's Age Old Excuse campaign visit www.macmillan.org.uk/ageoldexcuse