Oct 01, 2020

Surgeons told “say no” to older patients seeking surgery

On the eve of the Day of the Older Person, the ABC reported that public hospital surgeons in South Australia have been encouraged to “say no” to “old” patients.

The allegations came from a leaked email, which also suggests that surgeons should refuse surgery on those with comorbidities too.

The acting surgery program delivery manager for Central Adelaide Local Health Network emailed surgeons on Saturday, suggesting health services needed to “tighten up” their processes.

One way to do this was for surgeons to “say no” to general practitioners referring patients who are elderly or have comorbidities.

“We also expect that where the person is old or has many comorbidities, you might suggest to the GP that is [sic] not necessarily in their best interests,” the email says.

“Please use your wealth of consultant experience and start to say ‘no’ when clearly not sensible,” she wrote.

The South Australian Branch of aged care consumer peak body, Council on the Ageing, has condemned the comments, saying they are “sickening” and “inhumane”.

The comments show ageism is entrenched across government and society, says COTA SA chief executive, Jane Mussared.

“Instead of celebrating the lives of older people today, the International Day of Older Persons, we’re having to defend their rights to equal access to health care,” Ms Mussared said.

“To suggest to GPs that it is ‘not in their best interest’ to refer older patients is sick and immoral.”

“The public health system exists to support and care for all South Australians.

“We expect zero tolerance of ageism, everywhere, and especially in the public sector,” she said.

Ms Mussared said ageism is rife in South Australia’s health system. Damning evidence given in last year’s SA Select Committee on Health Services, suggested paramedics failed to give the appropriate care to a 94-year-old dementia patient with an acute hip fracture.

“Ageism leads to unacceptable outcomes for older people who seek medical help and it undermines trust in our health system,” Ms Mussared said.

“Need, risk and contribution to quality of life should form the basis of decision-making about access to health service – never age,” she said.

Ageism is often unwitting and subconscious, but it too often goes unchallenged, Ms Mussared said.

She commended the GPs and surgeons who objected to emails and called out the ageism.

“We urge others to do the same every time they see and hear it, whether that’s in health, in aged are, at work or even the supermarket.”

Public health trying to shorten wait times

A statement from CALHNM said on behalf of Lead for Surgery, Professor Jane Andrews, said, “We are implementing a number of solutions to improve wait times, and through collaborative working with our GP colleagues.

“Referrals from GPs, who know their patients best, need to include sufficient information so our specialists can accurately triage consumers to ensure no-one is left without advice or care.

“Our recently appointed GP Liaison doctor is working with us and her GP colleagues to improve two-way communication to ensure our community can access the best and fastest route to care.”

Image: Alex Boyd, Unsplash.

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