Doctors have admitted that the most vulnerable patients could be denied critical care in a severe coronavirus outbreak, as they also warned that the UK is dangerously unequipped to deal with a pandemic.
Under protocol dubbed ‘Three Wise Men’, senior medics at hospitals would need to decipher which patients to give care such as ventilators and beds to, with a focus on saving those most likely to recover.
The medics spoke to The Independent in the wake of ‘dishonest’ assurances from the Government that the UK can handle the virus which is rapidly spreading across Europe.
At the time of writing, 82,564 people are known to be infected with the disease while 2,809 have died as a result.
The England-based medics told the publication that the already struggling health service would ‘crumble’ under the weight of a large outbreak, one lamenting that their hospital even struggled to contain this winter’s seasonal spate of flu and colds.
‘If you can imagine the real worst-case scenarios where supply is massively outstripped by demand we would have to refuse to admit many people who would normally get ventilated,’ one worried doctor said.
They added that Three Wise Men was developed by The Committee on Ethical Aspects of Pandemic Influenza ‘to minimise the harm the pandemic causes,’ despite disparities in care levels for sufferers.
On the Government’s claims that the UK is equipped to deal with a pandemic, the doctor rubbished them, branding the comments ‘nonsense’.
Another doctor added: ‘If this is like the 2009 flu it’s going to be very bad. We’re in a worse position than we were then. If it’s worse than that we’re going to be in deep trouble.’
He added further, that the reduction in UK intensive care beds in recent years ‘was scandalous’.
Another critical care consultant from a major south London hospital said: ‘We would be making decisions about people’s lives. There just isn’t any slack in the system. We are grossly under resourced.’
This doctor, a geriatrician from the West Midlands, also refuted claims from the NHS that the service is equipped. They branded the comments ‘nonsense’ and ‘media spin’.
The medical professional added that on a ‘person to person basis’ the disease and care for it is nothing to worry about, only for those who would require critical care.
One consultant said Three Wise Men had been brought up in recent weeks while another medic from the North of England said it had been mentioned at their hospital informally.
A Government spokesperson said: ‘The UK is a world leader in preparing for and managing disease outbreaks, and our approach will always be led by medical experts.
‘We have been clear from the outset that we expect coronavirus to have some impact on the UK and a global pandemic could have a pronounced effect on the NHS, which is why we are planning for every eventuality.
‘Public safety is our top priority and we have a team of public health experts and scientists working round the clock to make sure the NHS and UK more widely is fully prepared.’
The news comes as a Derbyshire town went into lockdown today as a GP surgery shut, a primary school closed and residents were left too afraid to visit the shops because of a confirmed coronavirus case in a parent who is thought to have travelled to a hotel in Tenerife which has been paralysed by the killer infection.
The unidentified patient is believed to have a child at Burbage Primary School in Buxton, whose headteacher today announced it had shut for a ‘deep clean’ because one of the ‘parent population’ was infected.
It’s thought they stayed at the four-star H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife, where hundreds of holidaymakers – including 160 Britons – are currently being quarantined because of an outbreak.