Age discrimination against NHS patients is to be made illegal.
Ministers have confirmed that denying drugs or treatments on the grounds of age will be outlawed from October.
The move means that older people may be able to sue the NHS to challenge decisions that they feel are discriminatory because of their age.
It is also likely to create extra demand on NHS resources.
There have been a series of reports suggesting that older people suffer abuse in the NHS and that doctors discriminate against elderly patients in the allocation of treatments.
NHS staff will also have a duty to show they have considered the wellbeing and dignity of older people.
Care minister Paul Burstow said: “We know that older people are not always treated with the dignity and respect they deserve because of ageist attitudes - this will not be tolerated.
“Our population is ageing as more of us live longer. The challenge for the NHS is to look beyond a person’s date of birth and meet the needs of older people as individuals.”
Age discrimination in the workplace is already unlawful, but until now there was no equivalent legal requirement on public and private services.
This has led to inconsistent practices and unfair treatment, with the needs of older people in particular being ignored, the Government said.
There will be specific exceptions from the new law, for example insurance companies will still be able to use age when assessing risk and deciding prices and travel operators will be able to offer free bus travel for over-60s.
The exceptions provide clarity for private and public sector organisations - and their customers - over exactly where the line should be drawn, the government said.
Mr Burstow added: “I have heard numerous stories from people who feel that they have been discriminated against.
“One 84-year-old lady told how her doctor had been treating her for angina for years.
“Two years ago, she had an appointment to have an operation on a bunion on her big toe. However, because of the angina they sent her for a heart scan.
“They found that it was not angina, but actually a leaky valve.
“She asked if she could have this fixed and the doctors said ‘What are you bothered about, at your age?’
“I am pleased to say she stuck to her guns and said she wanted the job done.
“At long last, she has managed to get an appointment but the whole experience made her feel pushed aside.
“This is exactly the kind of discrimination we want to rule out in the NHS.”