Thousands of elderly patients with debilitating conditions such as arthritis and cataracts are being left in agony because the number of operations is at its lowest level for years.
Age UK said the figures showed the NHS was guilty of “ageism” in deciding who deserved treatment.
Caroline Abrahams, the organisation’s charity director, said: “It is distressing that ageism remains deeply rooted in the way older people are treated by the NHS, despite being outlawed by legislation.”
The report by health statistics firm Dr Foster shows the number of knee operations fell for the first time last year. The number of cataract operations started falling in 2009 and there are now fewer than in 2008
While the figures alone cannot shed light on whether patients’ needs are being met, a spokesman for Dr Foster said it was likely that NHS trusts were changing the thresholds at which people qualify for treatment.
This means people who would have got an operation in the past either do not qualify or may have to wait for their condition to get worse.
Steve Winyard, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said: “This postcode lottery is unacceptable.”