Prioritising care services: Do the oldest users lose out?

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Population ageing is a major concern in most European countries. Demands for health- and care services will increase, as older people typically have a higher need for such services. What is often overlooked, however, is that older users increasingly compete with younger users for the same limited care resources. We ask: How do employees in the Norwegian care sector make decisions regarding the allocation of services to younger and older users? To answer this question, we interviewed decision-makers in Norwegian municipalities. Despite providing for equal rights to services, laws allow for an interpretation of needs and this can result in the unequal distribution of services. Our study indicates that needs are defined differently for younger and older users, which affects the amount, type and content of the services allocated to younger and older people. When resources are scarce and priorities must be established, the services to the oldest suffer.

Key Practitioner Message: • The article lays the groundwork for an open debate about the allocation of resources to users in different life phases; • The analysis conceptualises and makes explicit important normative decisions made by practitioners.

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