Nav: Home

We can't (and shouldn't) expect clinicians without PPE to treat COVID-19 patients

May 21, 2020

We can't, and shouldn't, expect healthcare professionals without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to risk their lives to care for patients with COVID-19 infection, contends an expert in a stinging rebuke, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Governments in the developed world knew full well what they were doing when they chose to underfund health service infrastructure and ignore repeated warnings about the advent of a pandemic, such as SARS-CoV2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 infection.

And so did we, by voting for them, claims Dr Udo Schuklenk, of Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. We've only got ourselves to blame.

Many healthcare workers across the globe have resigned, staged protests, or gone on strike over the lack of PPE. Hundreds have already lost their lives while on the frontline of COVID-19 care.

And "there can be no doubt that the death toll among healthcare professionals caring for COVID-19 patients all over the world will be significant," warns the author.

Amid rising concerns about the human cost of inadequate PPE supplies, some governments have considered introducing a compulsory service obligation for healthcare professionals as they grapple with the issue of whether clinicians have a professional duty of care "under the circumstances," points out Dr Schuklenk.

"During the early days of the HIV pandemic, when an infection with that virus meant certain death, regulatory bodies in most countries eventually decreed that healthcare professionals had an obligation to treat," he explains.

The risk of death from COVID-19 is lower, but what makes it different is that the regulatory response was predicated on the availability of PPE. "With SARS-CoV2, we are, in most countries, in a very different situation," he insists.

Taxpayers in many countries in the global north* that have some form of publicly funded healthcare have voted for governments that favoured low tax regimes and austerity measures, effectively crippling services, he says.

"The endpoint was the same: democratically elected governments across the global north have left hospitals woefully unprepared for the onslaught of patients, not only in terms of ICU beds and ventilators, but also in terms of PPE," he writes.

"The unavailability of PPE to efficiently maintain universal precautions while on the job was a foreseeable consequence of the race to the public services bottom that globalisation motivates," he contends.

"It's not as if governments and their experts did not know that the occurrence of an agent like SARS-CoV2 or worse was likely," he points out, adding that there's no excuse for the shortage of PPE.

"[It] does not constitute hi-tech expensive equipment; all of it can be produced relatively cheaply, and it can be stored in large quantities without taxing a given healthcare system unreasonably financially," he writes.

Except that now, of course, it is much more expensive, because no one prepared properly and invested in it when it was readily available.

"We live in democracies, and we elected politicians who promised us time and again that we could have our cake and eat it. It turns out, unsurprisingly, we cannot have that," he points out.

"There is no reason why doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers should be seen to be professionally obliged to risk their wellbeing during pandemic outbreaks in the global north, because we chose governments that starved the healthcare delivery infrastructure sufficiently of resources to permit them to do their job safely or with minimal increases to their average on-the-job risk," he concludes. "Elections have consequences."
-end-
Peer reviewed: Yes

Evidence type: Opinion

Subjects: Healthcare professionals

BMJ

Related Pandemic Articles:

New Zealanders' attitudes changed after pandemic lockdown
In the first few weeks of the lockdown of New Zealand in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents reported a slight increase in mental distress but higher levels of confidence in the government, science and the police, as well as greater patriotism, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
A risk-tailored approach to reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic
A tailored public health approach that accounts for variation in risks across populations, places and time could guide the next phase of Canada's coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response, argue authors in a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
New model predicts the peaks of the COVID-19 pandemic
This week in the journal Frontiers, researchers describe a single function that accurately describes all existing available data on active COVID-19 cases and deaths -- and predicts forthcoming peaks.
COVID-19 pandemic uniting Canadians like no other event in decades
A new study by researchers from McGill University and the University of Toronto finds a cross-partisan consensus on battling COVID-19 in Canada.
How to identify which interventions work best in a pandemic
In lieu of a vaccine or reliable preventative medications, the only approaches currently available to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 are behavioral -- handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing, for example.
Nationwide survey about the corona pandemic
Majority feels strained, trusts health measures and favors a wealth tax on the rich.
COVID-19: Lessons to learn about the first 4.0 pandemic
Although the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak was officially presented suddenly in the popular market of exotic and wild animals in Wuhan in December 2019, phylogenetic studies state that coronavirus was already present in latency phase since October in this city in the province of Hubei.
Local climate unlikely to drive the early COVID-19 pandemic
Princeton researchers report in the journal Science that the number of people still vulnerable to COVID-19 and the speed at which the disease spreads means that local climate conditions are not likely to dominate the first wave of the pandemic.
Digital health in the COVID-19 pandemic
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and other key digital technology applications will play a vital role addressing the new healthcare challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gaps in international law impede pandemic research
The global COVID-19 pandemic reveals gaps in international law that can inhibit the sharing of scientific information, biological samples and genetic sequence data (GSD) crucial to the timely development of diagnostics, antiviral treatments and vaccines to address novel viral threats.
More Pandemic News and Pandemic Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Nina
Producer Tracie Hunte stumbled into a duet between Nina Simone and the sounds of protest outside her apartment. Then she discovered a performance by Nina on April 7, 1968 - three days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Tracie talks about what Nina's music, born during another time when our country was facing questions that seemed to have no answer, meant then and why it still resonates today.  Listen to Nina's brother, Samuel Waymon, talk about that April 7th concert here.