Public support legal protection for doctors

Concern over decisions made during pandemic
  • Deborah Condon

Over 70% of people believe that doctors should not be held personally accountable during the COVID-19 pandemic if a patient comes to harm as a result of delayed referrals or the unavailability of non-COVID services.

According to a survey of over 1,000 adults, which was commissioned by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), 71% believe doctors should not be held personally accountable in such cases.

A further 70% support the introduction of temporary emergency laws aimed at protecting doctors from criminal and regulatory investigation in relation to their treatment of patients during the pandemic.

The MPS, which protects and supports the professional interests of doctors worldwide, including 21,000 in Ireland, is calling on the Government to introduce such laws. It is also calling on the Medical Council to provide greater reassurance that doctors will not be subjected to regulatory action as a result of decisions made in good faith during the pandemic.

"Doctors have worked in uniquely challenging circumstances. They have been treating patients with what is still a new disease, making difficult clinical and triaging decisions, and often while struggling with inadequate PPE provision.

"Many have worked outside of their normal area of expertise or came out of retirement to support the HSE effort, in the knowledge that over 8,000 healthcare workers have been diagnosed with COVID-19, 88% of which contracted the virus as staff in a healthcare setting," commented MPS medical director, Dr Rob Hendry.

He noted that some of these doctors are now concerned that they will be investigated for decisions that they made in good faith.

"Two in five doctors also told us they are worried they will be held personally accountable if patients come to harm as a result of delayed referrals. Now more than ever, they need to know they are supported.

"This survey makes clear that there is overwhelming public support for doctors' protection. We hope the Government will make a bold show of its support by granting doctors legal immunity in relation to their treatment of patients in good faith during the crisis," Dr Hendry said.

He added that such a move would provide "unmeasurable relief" for many in the profession.

The survey of 1,001 adults was carried out between June 5-10 by YouGov on behalf of the MPS.


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