patients are dying because of an unspoken policy of "involuntary
euthanasia" designed to relieve pressure on the National Health
Service, a senior consultant claims.
Police are investigating 60 cases involving pensioners who died
after allegedly being deprived of food and water by hospital staff.
The inquiries follow complaints from families, NHS staff and
pressure groups that elderly patients are being denied appropriate
treatment and care.
Families appear to be rejecting the NHS complaints procedure in
favour of making criminal allegations to the police. SOS NHS
Patients in Danger, a pressure group formed by concerned relatives,
is considering taking to the European Court of Human Rights 50
examples of elderly patients who have died.
Dr Adrian Treloar, consultant and senior lecturer in geriatrics
at Greenwich Hospital and Guy's, King's and St Thomas's medical
schools, London, alleges that "involuntary euthanasia" is going on
in NHS hospitals.
He said: "There are severe pressures on beds and in order to
relieve this there may be a tendency to limit care inappropriately
where you feel doubtful about the outcome. Are the elderly being
served properly? No, they are not getting what they deserve and I
think they are being sold short. I think that is becoming clearer
and clearer. If old people start to resist early discharge they are
seen as an encumbrance."
Dr Treloar said he had heard many allegations from families of
relatives being denied treatment and being left to die in NHS wards.
He said: "When you are asked to talk through this with a distressed
relative you find that some of the time there has been a lack of
communication. But some of the time it feels very much as though
they do have a case. Involuntary euthanasia is not too strong a word
Recent British Medical Association guidelines say doctors should
be allowed to authorise withdrawal of nutrition and hydration by
tube for stroke victims and the confused elderly, even when the
patient is not terminally ill.
"The only safeguard is that you get a colleague to say it's a
good idea, which is about as flimsy as you can get," said Dr
Treloar. "If the medical profession is going to move, as they have
done, to a position where they accept the deliberate withdrawal of
food and fluid from patients, then it's very difficult for patients
to trust the doctors."
Sir John Grimley Evans, professor of clinical geratology at
Oxford University, has written to the NHS pleading for more open
data on age discrimination by health authorities. "There is
secrecy," he said. "Our difficulty is getting our hands on the
Evidence of pervading ageism is manifested in attitudes of staff,
cases of neglect and allegations that elderly people are dying
unnecessarily by being left untreated and uncared for in geriatric
wards across the country.
There is also statistical evidence that in the treatment of
cancer, heart disease, strokes and mental health, elderly people are
not receiving equal treatment. Help the Aged has, since last
January, been highlighting the severe failings in the treatment of
the elderly. The charity has received thousands of letters in
In many of the cases the hospital trusts involved have openly
admitted failures in care. Some blame lack of funding, some talk of
the need to "prioritise" and some admit that hospitals simply
"cannot do everything for everybody as we would ideally like to be
able to do".
One member of a health authority in the north of England, who did
not want to be named, said anecdotal evidence of elderly patients
having food and fluids withdrawn and being left to die was emerging
country wide. He said: "If we are sending elderly people into our
hospitals who have no life threatening illness but who in four or
five weeks are dead, we must ask whether the treatment they received
in that hospital was appropriate or inappropriate. Not to feed
someone in an appropriate manner is wrong.
"If this is a decision which is being made by private trusts
about the way we treat the elderly and by doctors who have taken a
Hippocratic oath, then I cannot square that. It needs to be out in
the open. If as a society this is what we want to happen and that is
acceptable, then so be it. But let's not have it going on behind