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BMA Response to COVID-19 Letter

30 April 2020

The British Medical Association writes response to "Covid 19 and the rights of disabled people" letter

The British Medical Association (BMA), the trade union and professional association for doctors in the UK, has responded to the open letter "Covid 19 and the rights of disabled people", with a letter addressed to Baroness Jane Campbell. We have reproduced the body of the letter below:

Dear Baroness Campbell

Thank you for sending us a copy of your open letter and statement on COVID-19 and the rights of disabled people. This is a most helpful document. We fully support the principles set out in the statement and we are happy to link to it from our own website.

We are also very grateful for the feedback we have received from Disability Rights UK, and other individuals and organisations, on our own guidance. We recognise that some aspects of it have raised concerns amongst people with disabilities and I would like to  draw your attention to a clarifying statement that we have now included on our website. We will be reviewing our guidance and will continue to consider all of the feedback we receive.

It is important to emphasise that we strongly support the measures the Government is taking to reduce demand for health services (through its policy on social distancing), and to increase the facilities and staff available to treat patients. We hope this will mean that there will be sufficient resources to meet all of the demands made upon the health service. As the doctors’ professional association, however, we have a responsibility to begin to think now about what would happen if the situation were to change, as I am sure you will appreciate. 

As we have seen in some other countries where health services have been overwhelmed, it is possible that there may be points in this pandemic where decisions need to be made about who should have access to specialised intensive care beds and specific forms of treatment. These are decisions that nobody wants to make, and we really hope we do not reach a similar point in the UK. If we do, however, doctors will be responsible for making and implementing these agonising decisions and they need support and clear guidance to help them to do so and to ensure that these decisions are made in a transparent, fair and consistent way.  

Despite some of the media reporting, we have not said that those who are disabled or who have existing conditions will not be treated in intensive care. Everyone matters, and everyone matters equally. Doctors have to make decisions based on the likelihood of individuals benefitting from particular forms of treatment.

All the evidence is being reviewed constantly to identify the factors that are important for the treatment of patients with COVID-19, so that guidance can be developed and modified to help doctors make the best decisions and provide the best care they can. 

We believe it is important that we, as a society, begin to discuss these issues now, in case they become necessary and resources become critically scarce in the future. As I said, I hope that we will not reach that stage. Please be assured that we will continue to listen to the feedback we receive and to keep our guidance under regular review to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date evidence and advice. 

With best wishes

Chaand Nagpaul CBE

BMA council chair