THE BLOG

100 Not Out - Why It's Just Not Cricket to Ration Medicine on the Basis of Age

28/03/2014 11:03 GMT | Updated 27/05/2014 10:59 BST

Rising life expectancies mean a third of babies born in 2012 are expected to notch-up a century.

It's fantastic that innovations in health and social care have contributed to us all living longer. But they also bring significant challenges; including how we care for older people.

At Anchor, it's an issue we're passionate about. So I have been stunned by recent proposals to assess the 'wider social benefits' when making decisions on which drugs to fund.

Sir Andrew Dillon, Chief Executive of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), rightly expressed his concern last month when he noted the plans from ministers could lead to a 'fair innings' approach that sees society favour the young over the old. The argument goes that the young are paying taxes and have a future. They are the workers, investors and pioneers of tomorrow, so we must keep them fit. Older people have had their time.

Sir Andrew said he was uncomfortable with this way of thinking; I was encouraged by his response and hoped the idea had been put to bed. However, the latest proposals from NICE appear to endorse this approach and Sir Andrew has recognised that measuring the wider social impact of medicines will 'inevitably' take our age into account. Is this a U-turn?

Assessing wider social benefits would lead to measurements around how 'valuable' the recipients of certain drugs are to society. In short, it risks older people being denied access to potentially life-saving medication as younger people get priority, due to the greater economic rewards they are perceived to provide.

But if we're talking about the value of older people, let's look at the facts. Estimates show that older people benefit the economy to a total of £175.9 billion, including delivering social care worth £34 billion and volunteering worth at least £10 billion, compared to welfare costs of £136.3 billion.

By 2030, the estimated benefit will be £291.1 billion, including almost £52 billion worth of social care and £15 billion through volunteering, compared to projected welfare costs of £216.2 billion.

This is before we even consider the contributions that the current older population have made to society: funding the country's infrastructure, NHS and drugs for a start. Not to mention the knowledge and wisdom that has been accumulated through years of work.

Attempts to measure 'wider societal benefits' are not only impossible - they're plain wrong. How can it be fair to consider the length of a person's life without also considering a host of other factors, including the quality of that life?

While I hope this latest proposal will be knocked for six (you can submit your views via NICE's public consultation) it provides a good example of why we have been campaigning since 2011 for a Minister for Older People. Rather than marginalise an ever-growing proportion of our population - as this proposal would - a dedicated Minister could ensure that sustainable policies are put in place to support new generations of older people in the years ahead. The role would also ensure older people can continue to make a full contribution to society and the economy.

The extremely difficult job of ensuring public money is spent fairly will not be achieved by pitting old against young. Anyone attempting to do so is on a very sticky wicket.

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