Health organisations call for 'more protection for doctors and nurses' amid pandemic

16 January 2021, 20:12 | Updated: 17 January 2021, 08:48

Health organisations have called for emergency legislation to protect doctors and nurses from legal action
Health organisations have called for emergency legislation to protect doctors and nurses from legal action. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Health organisations have called for emergency legislation to protect doctors and nurses from legal action over Covid treatment decisions.

A group of health organisations have written to the Health Secretary calling for the law to be updated so medical workers do not feel “vulnerable to the risk of prosecution for unlawful killing”

The letter, coordinated by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), said doctors and nurses need protection "when treating coronavirus patients in circumstances beyond their control”.

It states that there are currently no legal safeguards for coronavirus-related issues such as when there are “surges in demand for resources that temporarily exceed supply”.

The letter said: “With the chief medical officers now determining that there is a material risk of the NHS being overwhelmed within weeks, our members are worried that not only do they face being put in this position but also that they could subsequently be vulnerable to a criminal investigation by the police.

“There is no national guidance, backed up by a clear statement of law, on when life-sustaining treatment can be lawfully withheld or withdrawn from a patient in order for it to benefit a different patient, and if so under what conditions.

"The first concern of a doctor is their patients and providing the highest standard of care at all times.”

Doctors' Association head calls for protection for overwhelmed doctors

Hospitals in all NHS regions in England are already at, or near, the 92% bed capacity that NHS Improvement deems as being the safety threshold, and hospital admissions are rising in many areas.

The letter also highlights warnings made by Boris Johnson last year that if the NHS is overwhelmed then “doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would live and who would die”.

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In the letter the health coalition said "no medical professional should be above the law” and that emergency legislation should only apply to decisions “made in good faith and in circumstances beyond their control and in compliance with relevant guidance”

The letter said regulators such as the GMC would "take into account the environment doctors are working in", while “due consideration” would be given to “difficult circumstances”.

Largest hospital in North West tells LBC they could face a crisis soon

The demand for greater legal protections from doctors and nurses comes amid growing concern that hospitals will soon be overwhelmed and that the crisis may not peak for several weeks.

On Thursday, the largest hospital in the North West of England told LBC they could face a crisis in the next two weeks, due to rising coronavirus infection rates and a lack of hospital beds.

Royal Blackburn Hospital in Lancashire say the number of patients currently in hospital with Covid-19 is double what it was back in March 2020.

They also need dozens more beds over the coming weeks, in hospitals already saturated with patients.

Interim Medical Director for East Lancashire NHS Hospitals Trust Dr Ian Stanley told LBC the situation is "worse than in the first peak."

"Today we have around 340 positive Covid patients in the hospital, and within intensive care we have 36 Covid positive patients, and another 8 in our respiratory high care area, which is significantly higher than we had in the first peak," he explained.

"Where as in the first wave, we peaked at around 150 Covid positive patients across the hospital over two or three days, and then it quickly waned down - this time it’s 300, and staying there or, if anything, going up.

"Similarly on intensive care, we’ve been running at anything between 30 and 35, 40 patients with Covid - for the last month or so probably."