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Covid-19: Doctors should not face investigation for refusing to see patients over lack of PPE, says indemnifier

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1788 (Published 30 April 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1788

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  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

Doctors would not be held accountable if they decided not to see a patient because of inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and that patient subsequently came to harm, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) has said.

Doctors have consistently warned that they do not have the PPE they need.12

The MPS said that seeing a patient without proper PPE could pose a risk to doctors’ personal safety but that a doctor who decided to not see a patient because of inadequate PPE could be investigated by their employer or the General Medical Council if the patient subsequently came to harm. The defence body said that it was calling for urgent reassurance from the GMC and employers that doctors would not be subjected to regulatory or disciplinary action after a decision or outcome following poor PPE provision.

Rob Hendry, medical director at MPS, said, “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 eve, doctors need to know they are supported.”

A GMC spokesperson said, “This pandemic is an unprecedented challenge in which clinicians are balancing the imperative to provide care with concerns around their own safety and wellbeing. Doctors are making difficult decisions on a daily basis, and we trust them to continue to use their professional judgment to apply the principles in our guidance.

“If a concern was raised with us about a doctor’s actions we would need to look at the specifics, as we would any other concern referred to us. We’d also consider the context within which the doctor was working, including information about resources, guidelines, or protocols in place at the time.”

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