New ethical guidance for frontline staff during pandemic

PATIENTS should be given the same access to care regardless of whether they have Covid-19, according to new ethical guidance from the Royal College of Physicians.

The presence or absence of the virus should not be a limiting factor in treatment decisions, it says, adding that fair and equitable care is crucial.

The document has been published by the RCP with input from key stakeholders including the General Medical Council (GMC), the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, the Intensive Care Society, royal colleges and faculties.

It aims to provide guidance for “the difficult ethical issues that frontline staff will face while caring for their patients during the pandemic”.

Amongst its key points is for health teams to make decisions – regardless of whether they are Covid-related – according to protocol, as per good clinical practice. It recommends involving colleagues in decision making and that these are “robustly documented”.

Clinicians are reminded of the importance of discussing with individual patients and their carers their wishes regarding ongoing care, and of clearly recording this process.

The guidance also encourages doctors at higher risk of harm from Covid-19, including those over 70 or with underlying health conditions, to refrain from treating patients who have or are suspected of having the virus. It said they should instead “take on duties away from high risk areas.”

It calls for clinicians to be supported by government and their employing trusts/health boards, including access to appropriate training and personal protective equipment (PPE).

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