Doctors have been warned they will have to start making difficult decisions and decide which patients will be given life-saving resources, such as ventilators. In a document issued by the British Medical Association (BMA), health professionals were advised they could be forced to ration care if the NHS becomes overwhelmed with patients during then coronavirus pandemic. It comes as the UK saw its biggest daily rise in deaths so far, after the death toll rose by 563 in a single day on Wednesday.
The BMA’s new guidance, published on Wednesday, aims to ensure doctors have ethical support on how to decide who should get life-saving care when recourses are stretched.
For example, hospitals would be told to impose “severe” limits on who is to be put on a ventilator.
Patients facing a poor prognosis could be denied life-saving equipment in favour of younger, healthier people.
More vulnerable, older patients may not be offered treatment that could potentially save their lives.
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The guidance states: “Health professionals may be obliged to withdraw treatment from some patients to enable treatment of other patients with a higher survival probability.
“This may involve withdrawing treatment from an individual who is stable or even improving but whose objective assessment indicates a worse prognosis than another patient who requires the same resource.”
The document explains the guidance has been issued as the peak of the outbreak may leave scarce resources.
It states: “It is possible that serious health needs may outstrip availability and difficult decisions will be required about how to distribute scarce life-saving resources.”
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Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA’s medical ethics committee said the guidance had been issued to help doctors make difficult decisions.
He said: “Looking ahead to the coming weeks, if hard choices are required, we know they will be contested. There will be anger and pain.
“People who, in normal circumstances, would receive strenuous treatment may instead be given palliation in order to favour those with greater likelihood of benefiting.
“Nobody wants to make these decisions, but if resources are overwhelmed, these decisions must be made.”
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On Wednesday the UK reported its biggest daily rise in coronavirus related deaths, as the death toll surged to 2,352.
The number of patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 also saw a marked increase, as the total neared 30,000.
The Department of Health and Social Care reported 4,324 new cases of the disease, taking the UK total to 29,474.
Boris Johnson said the figures marked a “sad, sad day”, as he posted a video message to Twitter.
The Prime Minister, who is self-isolating in Downing Street after testing positive for the virus, also reiterated the Government’s pledge to “ramp up” testing.
He said: “This is how we will unlock the coronavirus puzzle. This is how we will defeat it in the end.”
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