Older patients with a low chance of survival could have life-saving ventilators removed so the machines can be given to healthier patients under new ethics guidelines issued by the British Medical Association (BMA).
The guidance has been prepared for doctors who will need to make "grave decisions" about who should receive "scarce lifesaving resources" if the country’s health system is overwhelmed by coronavirus cases.
"As such, some of the most unwell patients may be denied access to treatment such as intensive care or artificial ventilation," the BMA’s ethics guidance note states.
"This will inevitably be indirectly discriminatory against both the elderly and those with long-term health conditions, with the latter being denied access to life-saving treatment as a result of their pre-existing health problems."
Older patients given lower priority: The guidance says imposing an age cut-off would be illegal, but adds that older patients with pre-existing respiratory problems would have a "very high chance of dying despite intensive care," and are therefore lower priority for admission.
The guidance states: "In dangerous pandemics the ethical balance of all doctors and health care workers must shift towards the utilitarian objective of equitable concern for all – while maintaining respect for all as 'ends in themselves.'"
The ethics guidance note was updated on April 1. The UK government has previously warned the country’s health system could be overwhelmed if strict social distancing measures are not followed.