The Care Minister Paul Burstow has announced plans to introduce a new law to ban doctors from denying treatment to elderly patients simply because of their age.
The new law will come into effect this October as part of the Equality Act 2010.
The minister also announced plans to impose a legal duty on carers and nursing staff to consider the "wellbeing and dignity" of elderly patients.
At present it is felt that doctors discriminate against elderly patients purely because of their age, either denying them vital treatments or simply diverting their time and resources to younger, fitter patients.
"We know that older people are not always treated with the dignity and respect they deserve because of ageist attitudes - this will not be tolerated," he said.
The policy was actually introduced by Labour prior to their election defeat in May 2010. The coalition had pondered whether to give it legal effect, but have been swayed by damning reports on care for the elderly which have surfaced in the last 12 months.
The Health Services Ombudsman accused the NHS of "failing to meet the most basic standards" for the over-65s. In their investigation they found that some elderly patients were denied food and drink, while others were left unwashed and some died alone because staff forgot to inform their loved ones of their condition.
The new law could lead to elderly patients suing the NHS if they feel they have been denied a treatment solely on the basis of age.
It will not, however, give elderly patients the right to simply demand any service, as doctors will retain the right to deny a treatment on clinical grounds.
Mr Burstow gave a harrowing example of an 84-year-old he had met recently who was denied a valve replacement operation.
"When she asked to have the problem fixed, doctors said: 'What are you bothered about, at your age?'" he said.
Although age discrimination has been outlawed for some years, recent research has shown clear differences in the treatment received by the over 65s for a wide range of conditions. Research by the King's Fund found that the elderly waited longer in Accident and Emergency, were less likely to be referred to intensive care and had fewer surgical interventions after traumatic injury.
Doctors face ban on denying treatment to elderly (The Telegraph)