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Age affects referral chances

1st December 2010

A new study has found that age, sex and wealth all affect how likely a GP is to refer people for a specialist appointment.

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The study from the King’s Fund and University College London analysed data for 130,000 patients and found that older people were less likely to be referred for three common symptoms, sparking concerns from the charity Age UK.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, focused on decisions on 326 British patients with postmenopausal bleeding, hip pain and heartburn over a six-year period.

After factors such as smoking, weight, alcohol use and existing conditions had been factored in, the study showed major differences in referral rates between old and young, male and female.

In the example of postmenopausal bleeding, someone aged 85 or over was 61% less likely to get a specialist appointment, compared with someone aged 55 to 64.

As regards hip pain, women were 10% less likely to be referred than men.

Age UK director Michelle Mitchell said: “A doctor’s decision to refer patients must be based solely on the patient's clinical need, not their age. Age discrimination in health provision will be unlawful from 2012 and it can't come a moment too soon for older people in need of medical care.”

There was also evidence that people from deprived backgrounds had less chance of receiving a specialist appointment for hip pain and heartburn.

While the reasons behind the decisions were not revealed, there authors suggested older people may be less likely to ask for a referral from their GP.

 

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