Skip to main content

The ethics of PPE

If health care resources and staff are stretched to the limit, difficult life or death choices must be made.  Who to treat? That will be the question.

At ordinary times decisions might be made based on whether treatment will do more harm than good.  It might even be the patient who decides.  End of life decisions are more often like that.  Will further treatment help?



But these are not regular times.

The British Medical Association guidance on pandemics says

"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’."

If resources are spent on saving the life of one person at the expense of many others, how then is that balance to be made?

One thing is sure.  Our actions are also part of this ethical mix.  Our efforts will determine whether or not the anticipated surge in those requiring treatment overwhelms the limited resources of the NHS.

A great deal is said about 'flattening the curve'.  But this is really what this is about.  It is about enabling our doctors and nurses to cope.  The more we can contain the numbers of cases at any one time, the easier the ethical decisions can be made or avoided.   Who lives and who dies depends on us as much as it does the medical staff.

But the government must also take responsibility too.  The lack of PPE is also making ethical decisions more difficult.   Medical staff should not be in their position of balancing the risk to their own lives against those of their patients.

Personal Protective Equipment is a resource that saves lives.   It does so in more ways than protecting health care workers and patients from infection.   It eases the availability of staff and that, in turn, helps save lives.

The real precious resource


The Health Secretary Matt Hancock said PPE was a 'precious resource.'

The Royal College of Nursing's General Secretary, Dame Donna Kinnair, responded on BBC Radio 4 that no PPE was "more precious a resource than a healthcare worker’s life, a nurse’s life, a doctor’s life".

The government says it has 'a plan.'

The Home Secretary conceded in her press conference last week that there had been “distribution issues” as a result of global demand for PPE and that there was now a “clear plan” for delivering it. She failed, however, to indicate what the 'clear plan' was. 

I have no doubt there is a plan, although it is difficult to see precisely what it is.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

The secret life of Giant Pandas

Giant pandas, Ailuropoda melanoleuca , have usually been regarded as solitary creatures, coming together only to mate; but recent studies have begun to reveal a secret social life for these enigmatic bears.  GPS tracking shows they cross each others path more often than previously thought, and spend time together.  What we don't know is what they are doing when together.  Photo by  Sid Balachandran  on  Unsplash For such large mammals, pandas have relatively small home ranges. Perhaps this is no surprise. Pandas feed almost exclusively on bamboo. The only real threat to pandas has come from humans. No wonder then that the panda is the symbol of the WWF.  Pandas communicate with one another through vocalization and scent marking. They spray urine, claw tree trunks and rub against objects to mark their paths, yet they do not appear to be territorial as individuals.  Pandas are 99% vegetarian, but, oddly, their digestive system is more typical of a carnivore. For the 1% of their diet

Work Capability Assessments cause suffering for the mentally ill

People suffering from mental health problems are often the most vulnerable when seeking help. Mental health can have a major impact on work, housing, relationships and finances. The Work Capability Assessments (WCA) thus present a particular challenge to those suffering mental illness.  The mentally ill also are often the least able to present their case. Staff involved in assessments lack sufficient expertise or training to understand mental health issues and how they affect capability. Because of  concerns that Work Capability Assessments will have a particularly detrimental effect on the mentally ill,  an  e-petition  on the government web site calls on the Department of Work and Pensions to exclude people with complex mental health problems such as paranoid schizophrenia and personality disorders. Problems with the WCA  have been highlighted in general by the fact that up to 78% of 'fit to work' decisions are  being overturned on appeal. It is all to the good that they