Health secretary Andy Burnham has told the national children and adult services conference that age discrimination will be outlawed in the NHS and social care in England, Wales and Scotland from 2012, following a review of the treatment of older people.

Sir Ian Carruthers, the chief executive of NHS South West, was asked to investigate the barriers facing the elderly by Mr Burnham’s predecessor Alan Johnson earlier this year.

Researchers found elderly stroke patients received less adequate care than younger counterparts and a watchdog warned the over-65s lost out on mental health services.

A poll found almost half of doctors who cared for older people believed the NHS was “institutionally ageist”.

Speaking in Harrogate, Mr Burnham said: “The age discrimination ban in the Equality Bill should apply for health and social care across England, Wales and Scotland at the same time as other sectors - in 2012.

“Meeting that deadline is ambitious, but achievable - and it’s vital if a central tenet of the national care service, the pursuit of fairness and equity, is to be upheld.”

Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “Doctors and nurses need to remain free to make clinical decisions, which take into consideration all the factors affecting a patient’s suitability for different types of treatment, including their age.

“But at the same time people need reassurance that the health service will be there for them to provide the best possible and most appropriate care and treatment when they need it, whatever their age, that is the balance which needs to be struck.”