NHS boss forced to deny elderly patients 'refused ICU treatment during first Covid wave to stop NHS being overrun

AN NHS boss was forced to deny the allegations that elderly patients were refused ICU treatment during the first wave of Covid in a bid to stop hospitals from being overrun.

Patients aged over 80, and some in younger groups such as the over 60s, were not given potentially life-saving treatment because health chiefs were so concerned hospitals would be overwhelmed, it's claimed.

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Patients were assessed via documents called a "triage tool" – drawn up at the request of England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty – with these used to prevent elderly Covid patients from being ventilated, it's alleged.

As part of an investigation, the Sunday Times says the tool was used to create a "score" for patients based on their age, frailty, and illness.

However, the allegations have today been vehemently denied by NHS national medical director Stephen Powis, who called them "deeply offensive" to doctors and nurses.

Professor Powis said: "These untrue claims will be deeply offensive to NHS doctors, nurses, therapists and paramedics, who have together cared for more than 110,000 severely ill hospitalised Covid-19 patients during the first wave of the pandemic, as they continue to do so today.

“The assertions are simply not borne out by the facts: it was older patients who disproportionately received NHS care – over two-thirds of our Covid-19 inpatients were aged over 65.

“The NHS repeatedly instructed staff that no patient who could benefit from treatment should be denied it and, thanks to people following Government guidance, even at the height of the pandemic there was no shortage of ventilators and intensive care.

“We know that some patients were reluctant to seek help, which is why right from the start of the pandemic the NHS has urged anyone who is worried about their own symptoms or those of a loved one to come forward for help.”

It comes as:

  • NHS workers are set to get a 'vaccine within weeks' as the Government plots a roll-out at Christmas
  • The self-isolation period for coronavirus could be slashed to seven days over fears Brits aren't complying
  • An extra 'tier four' level of Covid restrictions that would close restaurants and non-essential shops could be imposed if the infection rate does not drop
  • Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is under increasing pressure to drop his 'non-essential' shopping ban
  • Another 19,790 Brits were diagnosed with coronavirus overnight – 39 per cent higher than this time last week

Under the original system, over 80s were automatically excluded from intensive care treatment due to their age.

Even those in the over 60s who were considered frail and with pre-existing health conditions could have been over the intensive care threshold, the paper claims.

The triage tool was never published by the NHS. It was also never official NHS policy.

However, medics say the tool was widely circulated among healthcare professionals.

Today, however, health chiefs have denied ever finishing or circulating the documents.

Officials say that while early work on an intensive care national 'triage tool' did take place, it was "not completed" and never issued.

A spokesperson said: "No intensive care national triage tool was issued by the NHS.

The newspaper claims people aged in their 70s and 80s, as well as older patients, made up the smallest number of casualties with Covid in intensive care.

That's despite the group having the highest number of deaths.

It's also been claimed critical care units were never at capacity – despite the Government spending £220million on seven Nightingale hospitals that were hardly used.

Even at the height of the pandemic in April, just 42 per cent of the NHS's ventilator beds were in use.

Despite that, it's claimed GPs were asked to make sure the frailest and most elderly were left at home – even if they needed hospital treatment for coronavirus.

And the paper alleges NHS England issued guidance about groups of patients who should not ordinarily be taken to hospital without the green light from a senior doctor. These groups include all care home residents.

Meanwhile, paramedics were told to be more selective about who they take into hospital, it's said.

The triage tool was discussed by the UK's Moral and Ethical Advisory Group (MEAG) at the start of the pandemic in March.

The tool was to be used to give a score to patients using their age, frailty and pre-existing health conditions. Based on that score, patients would be selected for critical care – or left to ail alone.

Patients with a score of eight or over were not seen as eligible for treatment.

Those over the age of 80 would score nine on age alone – meaning they're automatically excluded from hospital care.

Even those aged over 60 could be at risk of missing out on treatment on the triage tool, if they had an underlying health condition and were considered frail.  

According to the Sunday Times, a second version was later produced, lowering the score for age, but still advising those over 80 who were not in peak physical health should be denied treatment.

NHS chiefs say the service has never adopted, published or relied on any such tool and its logo has not be authorised for use on any such tool.

It is profoundly wrong that the government did not come clean to the public about this tragedy

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, told the Sunday Times "large numbers of patients' did 'not receive the care they needed".

The medic said it was down to the health service "not having the resources".

Tory MP David Davis told the paper: "The policy appears to have given the least care to those who needed it most.

"It is profoundly wrong that the government did not come clean to the public about this tragedy."

Co-chair of MEAG, Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery, said: "We were asked to look at the issue of a Covid-19 triage tool.

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"However, it wasn’t needed. 

"Clinicians have been focused throughout the pandemic on assessing the individual needs of their patients and then providing the care that will benefit them best.

"The rapid expansion of critical care capacity ensured that our initial concern that the NHS might be unable to meet all its patients’ needs proved unfounded."

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