The government has unveiled plans to outlaw age discrimination in the NHS following claims of pensioners being patronised by doctors and denied treatment because of their age.
The number of people surviving to over 85 is expected to double in the next 20 years. With this in mind, ministers are now reassessing attitudes towards elderly people.
Equality Minister Harriet Harman plans to publish details of the new Equalities Bill this week.
She told MPs: "The last frontier of equality is ensuring that the growing number of older people in this country don't face unfair prejudice and discrimination."
Although age discrimination will be outlawed in the provision of goods and services, doctors will still be able to refuse older patients treatment if they believe there are sound clinical reasons to do so.
It is thought that the Bill will underpin a culture change which will put ageism on a par with racism.
Kate Jopling, head of public affairs at Help the Aged, said: "The government acknowledged the problem of age discrimination as far back as 2001 – older people sitting in a doctor's surgery or a hospital bed should not be forced to wait any longer for equal treatment."