Are doctors entitled to refuse treatment to Covid 19 patients?

Doctors and nurses are on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis. But there are consistent and ongoing failures to provide them with adequate PPE.

At the request of Every Doctor, a campaign group of medical professionals working on the frontline, the Good Law Project commissioned legal advice on the choices open to doctors and nurses when confronted with the difficult decision whether to treat COVID-19 patients without adequate PPE.  Schona Jolly QC and Dee Masters, barristers at Cloisters, prepared the opinion which is available here.

The advice concludes that:

    • There will be certain circumstances where a doctor or nurse will act in accordance with their professional rules, and yet refuse to treat a Covid-19 patient because inadequate PPE puts either themselves or their family at risk.
    • There are legal protections in place for doctors and nurses who refuse to treat COVID-19 patients because of inadequate PPE.
    • There are further legal protections which may apply to doctors and nurses with protected characteristics (such as race, age, disability and pregnancy) who are exposed to particular risks because of inadequate PPE.
    • There is a lack of sufficiently clear guidance from the regulators on this issue. It would be highly desirable for the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council to produce clear guidance on the circumstances in which doctors and nurses may take an informed and reasoned decision not to treat Covid-19 patients due to inadequate PPE.

A legal advice by Schona Jolly QC and Dee Masters on whistleblowing protection for medical professionals during the Covid 19 pandemic is also available here.