Elderly patients with a low chance of survival could be taken off ventilators so they can be given to healthier ones under new guidelines issued to doctors.
The British Medical Association has released advice on prioritising intensive care treatment if the NHS becomes overwhelmed.
The guidelines say this will ‘inevitably be indirectly discriminatory against both the elderly and those with long-term health conditions’.
They add it may be necessary to deny some of the most unwell patients potentially life-saving treatment – even if their condition is improving.
The doctors’ union said a simple ‘age cut-off’ policy would be unlawful but ‘relevant factors’ for considering if a patient should get intensive care include their age and underlying health conditions.
‘Some of the most unwell patients may be denied access to treatment such as intensive care or artificial ventilation,’ it says.
‘This will inevitably be indirectly discriminatory against both the elderly and those with long-term health conditions relevant to their ability to benefit quickly, with the latter being denied access to life-saving treatment as a result of their pre-existing health problems.
A simple ‘age cut-off’ policy would be unlawful as it would constitute direct age discrimination.
‘A healthy 75-year-old cannot lawfully be denied access to treatment on the basis of age. However, older patients with severe respiratory failure secondary to COVID-19 may have a very high chance of dying despite intensive care, and consequently have a lower priority for admission to intensive care.’
The Alzheimer’s Society said the ‘discriminatory’ system could prevent those with dementia getting treatment even if they could recover from coronavirus.