UK doctors are told they may have to prioritize coronavirus patients with a 'higher survival probability' - even if it means taking ventilators from someone who is improving

nhs nightingale hospital london

  • Stabling coronavirus patients in the UK could be taken off ventilators and other treatment if another patient with a "higher survival probability" also needs it during shortages.
  • The British Medical Association, the professional union for doctors in the UK, told doctors they may have to make "grave decisions" if hospitals become overwhelmed.
  • "It is possible that serious health needs may outstrip availability ... Health professionals may be obliged to withdraw treatment from some patients to enable treatment of other patients with a higher survival probability," the BMA said.
  • Death from the virus have surged in the UK, with its highest-ever death toll of 563 recorded on Wednesday.
  • The government is racing to manufacture a promised 30,000 more ventilators, but as of Wednesday only 30 had been made, according to The Guardian.
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UK doctors may have to prioritize healthier coronavirus patients if hospitals are overwhelmed, even if it means taking treatment and medical equipment away from someone who is recovering.

The ethics committee of the British Medical Association (BMA) - the professional union for doctors in the UK - sent guidance on Wednesday about the "grave decisions" doctors may have to make between patients in case of shortages.Advertisement

Hospitals around the country are bracing to treat a surge in coronavirus patients, and authorities recently completed work on a 4,000-bed makeshift hospital in east London to expand the city's capacity. But even that might not be enough.

Despite "vigorous attempts" to build up hospital capacity, "it is possible that serious health needs may outstrip availability," the BMA document said.

"Health professionals may be obliged to withdraw treatment from some patients to enable treatment of other patients with a higher survival probability," the BMA said.

"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."

"During the peak of the pandemic, doctors are likely to be required to assess a person's eligibility for treatment based on a 'capacity to benefit quickly' basis," it added. "As such, some of the most unwell patients may be denied access to treatment such as intensive care or artificial ventilation."
Boris Johnson

The BMA's advice also said that it will mean "some patients may be denied intensive forms of treatment that they would have received outside a pandemic."

Dr John Chisholm, chair of the BMA's medical ethics committee, said that these patients may instead be given palliative care, Sky News reported. "There will be anger and pain," he said.

"Nobody wants to make these decisions, but if resources are overwhelmed, these decisions must be made."Advertisement

Doctors in Italy - the country currently with the most coronavirus deaths - have also reported being forced to prioritize young coronavirus patients over older ones due to a shortage in equipment.

The UK recorded its two worst death tolls in a row on Tuesday and Wednesday, losing nearly 1,000 patients in the space of 48 hours. Experts said this puts the country on a worse trajectory for coronavirus deaths than China.

UK health officials also plan to build two makeshift hospitals, like that in east London, in the English cities of Birmingham and England.Advertisement

The government previously also promised to manufacture 30,000 extra ventilators, but has only made 30 so far, The Guardian reported.

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