A Department of Health-funded study has estimated that it would cost £2bn to eliminate age discrimination in mental health services in England.
The finding follows research showing that eliminating ageism in social care would cost a similar amount, and news that the government will legislate to outlaw age discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities.
The study, by the Personal Social Services Research Unit, analysed data from a survey of people receiving community mental health services in 2000, and found service costs tended to be lower for older people, even accounting levels of need.
It estimated the NHS would have had to have spent £10.4bn in 2006-7 on services, up from £8.4bn, to have provided people aged 55 and over with a similar level of service to those aged 35-54.
Depression and anxiety
The difference in cost between older and younger adults appeared most marked for common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
The study also drew on interviews with senior and middle managers in eight mental health organisations, who “generally acknowledged that age discrimination exists within current mental health services”.
Each organisation had a separate service for working age and older adults and in three of the eight people were automatically transferred to the older people’s service on turning 65 or 70.
It said there was a “generally held view” that there were fewer and less well-staffed services for older people, while the study found ageist attitudes among staff and the organisations also inhibited older people’s access to support.
The abolition of age discrimination in goods and services will be included in an Equality Bill, due in the 2008-9 parliamentary session, though its implementation will take place over a number of years to allow industries to adjust.
The bill would also place a single duty on public bodies to promote equality in age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief and sexual orientation, replacing the existing separate duties covering race, disability and gender.