'Ageism' is to blame for Britain's high covid death toll, Age UK boss suggests

Gabriella Swerling
·4-min read
According to the latest available figures, there have been over 70,500 deaths among people aged 65 & over in the UK where coronavirus is mentioned on the death certificate, representing 90 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths.    - Yui Mok /PA
According to the latest available figures, there have been over 70,500 deaths among people aged 65 & over in the UK where coronavirus is mentioned on the death certificate, representing 90 per cent of all COVID-19 deaths. - Yui Mok /PA
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

‘Ageism' among Government officials and scientists is to blame for Britain's high covid death toll, the Age UK boss has suggested.

According to the latest available figures, there have been over 70,500 deaths among people aged 65 & over in the UK where coronavirus is mentioned on the death certificate, representing 90 per cent of all Covid-19 deaths.

Furthermore, almost one-in-three (28 per cent) deaths in the UK where coronavirus (Covid-19) is mentioned on the death certificate occurred in a care home.

It was revealed by The Telegraph that coronavirus hospital patients can be discharged into care homes without being tested under draft Government guidelines.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, the leading charity representing older people, said that “the ageism revealed by the pandemic has been profoundly depressing”.

Watch: How ageism negatively affects older people’s health

Coronavirus excess deaths - by location (hospital, care home, private home)
Coronavirus excess deaths - by location (hospital, care home, private home)

Writing online for The Telegraph today, Ms Abrahams said: “Perhaps these oversights are less surprising when you consider that there is no one in Whitehall to speak up for older people: no Minister for older people, no Commissioner, no strategy or plan, and no cross cutting unit of officials.

“These are the kinds of things governments put in place when they think something or someone is important. The fact that we have none of them in England is quite telling.

“The over 65s comprise almost one in five of the population and rising, yet the government machine almost entirely ignores them as a group: a classic example of ‘structural ageism?’

“There has been more than a hint of ageism too from some arguing for ‘the economy versus the nation’s health’ – a false choice if ever I saw one since the evidence is that we can best protect the economy by gaining and keeping control of the virus.”

She added: “For example, consider the way in which our scientists and decision makers initially overlooked the risks facing care home residents, and therefore failed to protect them effectively until at least several months in.

“In advanced nations like ours it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ‘out of sight’ too easily becomes ‘out of mind’ with care homes and the older people living in them.

Nine in ten deaths from the virus here so far are of over 65s, a massive two in five of whom were living in a care home at the time.

“Would we have tolerated such a rickety set of services for so long had most of the people they are for been anyone else?

And will the Prime Minister stand by his word in 2021 and fundamentally reform and refinance social care to give older people the dignity they deserve?

“Certainly, that would be a fitting legacy after all our older population, those in care homes especially, are enduring during this pandemic.”

Guidance issued by the Department of Health and Social Care said visits to care homes in tier 4 areas can only take place behind substantial screens, in visiting pods or through windows. The move has dashed hopes of hand holding and hugs between relatives and residents.

The emergence of a rapidly transmissible strain of Covid-19 has also raised fears about the safety of close-contact visits outside tier 4, enabled by rapid testing, which does not detect all positive cases.

Responding to the comments, a spokesperson for the DHSC said “Eliminating health inequalities and helping people have healthier, more active lives for longer is a priority of this government.

"We are investing hundreds of millions of pounds through our Ageing Society Grand Challenge, ensuring everyone can enjoy an additional five extra years of healthy, independent life by 2035.

“We are, and always have been, resolutely committed to supporting elderly people and the social care sector, including providing over £1.1 billion for infection control measures throughout the pandemic and £4.6 billion to local authorities to reduce pressures on services.

“We are committed to sustainable improvement of the adult social care system and will bring forward proposals next year.”

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown