If a doctor decides they cannot safely see a COVID-19 patient because they do not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and a patient subsequently comes to harm, they should not be held personally accountable by their employer or the regulator, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) said today.
The call comes as a Royal College of Physicians survey of over 2000 doctors shows that a third of doctors treating patients in high-risk COVID-19 settings are often still unable to access adequate PPE. The death toll among frontline health and care workers has also now surpassed 100.
MPS – the world’s leading protection organisation supporting over 300,000 healthcare professionals around the world – said doctors make patients their first concern but seeing a patient without proper PPE can risk their personal safety and spreading the virus. A doctor making the difficult decision to not see a patient due to inadequate PPE could however be investigated by their employer, or the GMC if the patient subsequently came to harm.
MPS is calling for urgent reassurance from both the GMC and employers that doctors will not be subjected to regulatory or disciplinary action following a decision or outcome that is the result of poor PPE provision. The call follows MPS’s plea for the Government to introduce emergency laws providing doctors with legal immunity from criminal or regulatory investigations arising from difficult treatment or triaging decisions made during Covid-19.
Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director at MPS, said: “It is appalling enough that doctors are placed in the position of having to choose between treating patients and keeping themselves and their other patients safe – this stress should not be compounded by the prospect of being brought before a regulatory or disciplinary tribunal.
“MPS members who are faced with regulatory or employment action arising from a decision to not see a patient because they lacked the PPE to practise safely, can come to us for advice, support and representation. However, it should not come to this; it is not fair for doctors to be held personally accountable for adverse outcomes that are ultimately the result of poor PPE provision.
“Considering the daily challenge doctors continue to face on the supply and adequacy of PPE, through no fault of their own, it seems right and just that they are afforded immunity from investigations by their employer, or the GMC if the patient came to harm. Of course, this does not apply to wilful or intentional criminal harm or reckless misconduct.
“We hope to see a statement of reassurance from the GMC and employers as a matter of urgency. Now more than ever, doctors need to know they are supported.”
Notes to editors
Royal College of Physicians Survey: https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/tracking-impact-covid-19-workforce
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About Medical Protection
Medical Protection is a trading name of The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”). MPS is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising
from professional practice.
Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.
Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.