It is generally acknowledged that the NHS could have been better prepared for the coronavirus pandemic. It entered the crisis with just 8,000 ventilators and so few testing kits that it remains unable to determine even how many of its staff have the virus. Medical professionals still complain of a shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment.
The lack of equipment means that medics sometimes have no choice but to make tough life-or-death choices about who receives ventilators and life-saving treatment. They are assisted in such rationing by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which has introduced new triage tests such as the Clinical Frailty Scale.
Under this particular test, patients are assessed and given a score out of 9. Put bluntly, if they score below five (very fit to moderately frail) they might qualify for life-saving treatment, but any higher and they might not.
Some GPs have reportedly been writing to cancer sufferers and other seriously sick patients in the community, advising them not to go to hospital if they contract Covid-19 because they will not qualify for a ventilator. Such patients are being told, in effect, that it would be better if they stayed at home and died there.
This has caused concern among some doctors and vulnerable people, among them Baroness Campbell of Surbiton, a disability rights campaigner who herself uses a ventilator.
“This is not the time to bring in guidance on who is worthy to treat and who isn’t,” she said. “Hospital doctors already use their clinical judgment in terms of whether a treatment will have benefit to the patient or not.”
Dr Jon Hastie, a sufferer of Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, was so “angry and scared” about how he might be treated that he filmed a powerful personal appeal and circulated it via social media.
“I never thought that I would use Twitter to beg for my life,” he said, adding: “Please don’t let people like me die without giving us a chance. Please don’t write us off.”