The Dutch Health Minister has agreed to look into a controversial plan which could limit hospital care for elderly patients over the age of 70.
Bruno Bruins, Minister for Medical Care in the Netherlands, said he was broadly in favour of the plan, put forward by opposition MP Corinne Ellemeet, of the left wing green party ‘GroenLinks’ (GreenLeft).
It would mean that geriatric care experts would be involved in the treatment of over-70s who would not automatically be given expensive treatments such as new heart valves, artificial hips or costly cancer treatments.
Critics have branded the plan ‘Nazi-like’ cost-cutting and say it could lead to elderly people dying prematurely.
But Mr Bruins agreed that it was possible some elderly patients were being given expensive and unnecessary treatments which were pushing up health insurance contributions.
The minister has now tasked a specialist task force, led by an eminent medical expert, to look into the question of how best to tailor health care to patient needs.
He said: “Unnecessary care is not good for anybody, not for the patient and not for the contributors.”
Mr Bruins said: “International research shows that for maybe half of the care we provide, we don’t sufficiently know whether it contributes anything to the patient.”
The task force will evaluate the current level of care covered by basic compulsory insurance, and investigate how to keep health insurance contributions as low as possible.
Ms Ellemeet said 70 percent of Dutch hospital patients were above the age of 70, but their care was not usually tailor made for their needs.
She said: “What are we doing to the patient? Admission to hospital, anaesthetics, pain and a torrent of medicines. Different research endeavours have shown that over-treating elderly patients is still the common norm.”
The Green MP insisted her proposal was about giving the elderly the best care possible, although she admitted reducing healthcare costs could be an additional benefit.
Ms Ellemeet added: “I am not interested in the costs, but the quality of life.”
She argued that geriatricians could better assess whether an older person could fully recover after an operation, or whether they would no longer be able to live independently at home.
“Many elderly people find such information important. Now they do not always get it. The assessment must ultimately always be made by the patient himself,” she said.
But her controversial plan has faced stiff opposition in the Netherlands from critics such as Jan Slagter, a TV broadcaster who makes shows for the elderly, who said he was shocked by the proposal.
Mr Slagter said: “Who are you or I to determine that someone aged 85 cannot get a hip replacement?”
Geert Wilders, of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), called the plan “sick”.
Mr Wilders added: “Our elderly should not sweat out whether they will get a new heart valve or not.”
The Netherlands’ ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), of which Minister Bruins is a member, has said it wants to offer euthanasia to all seniors who feel they have “fulfilled their life” and “have nothing more to live for”.
Euthanasia has been legal in the Netherlands since 2001, but can only be granted if a doctor considers the patient’s pain and suffering to be unbearable and incurable.