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Let’s not turn elderly people into patients

BMJ 2009; 338 doi: (Published 04 March 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;338:b873
  1. Michael Oliver, professor emeritus of cardiology, University of Edinburgh
  1. michaeloliver{at}

    Many older people, often retired, are summoned by their general practitioner for an annual health check. They may feel reasonably well, but the NHS does not always permit such euphoria. They may be told that they have hypertension or diabetes or high cholesterol concentrations; that they are obese; that they take too little exercise, eat unhealthily, and drink too much. The quality and outcomes framework (QoF), the scheme that rewards NHS general practitioners for good performance, awards points, with related payments, for each documentation. Many of these patients are told to have more investigations. Eventually, most are started on pills. Few seem to be considered not at risk for something. Thus, of those who thought themselves healthy, a number will return home as patients. And they may be scared and no longer comfortably aging.

    What kind of medicine is this? It is politics taking preference over professionalism, obsession with government targets superseding common sense, paternalism replacing personal advice. It seems that many Western governments regard all people aged over 75 as patients.

    This trend has many causes. These include overenthusiastic and uncritical interpretation of various guidelines, the payment of GPs by NHS trusts for …

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