Matt Hancock rejects call to change law to prevent doctors being sued for ‘unlawful killing’

Rob Merrick
·3 min read

Matt Hancock has rejected a call to change the law to prevent doctors being sued for “unlawful killing” if they have to stop treating some patients.

The move was unnecessary, the health secretary said – despite being told that medics fear being “forced into some unimaginable decisions”.

“I’m very glad to say that we are not in a position where doctors have to make those sorts of choices,” Mr Hancock said.

At the Downing Street press conference, he was confronted with a warning of appalling decisions becoming necessary “because intensive care units are so full”.

“Will the government introduce emergency legislation to protect those staff who are concerned that they may face legal action and are worried that they might be sued for unlawful killing?” the British Medical Journal asked.

Watch: COVID-19 - Medics call for emergency law to protect them from 'unlawful killing' cases

Last week, Boris Johnson warned there was “a very substantial risk” that intensive care units would run out of beds, as the second wave of Covid-19 continues.

Although the number of cases is falling – and hospitalisation numbers are plateauing or declining slowly in London and the south east – the numbers on wards continues to climb in the midlands and north.

On a law change, Mr Hancock told the BMJ: “I very much hope that we don't get in that situation, and that everybody can get the treatment that they deserve.

“And so the advice that I have is that it is not necessary at this point, to change the law on this matter.”

The health secretary was backed by Professor Stephen Powis, the NHS medical director for England, who said it had been “planning for potential waves such as this”.

It would be possible to open more intensive care units and hospitals were already helping under-pressure buildings, he said, adding: “That is what we will continue to do.”

An upbeat Mr Hancock said more than four million people have now been vaccinated, urging people to abide by the lockdown as the programme was extended.

“Don't blow it now. We are on the route out. We are protecting the most vulnerable. We are getting the virus under control,” he said.

He faced questions about why the number of jabs being delivered had dipped at the weekend, but urged people to look at weekly averages rather than data from a single day.

“The vaccine delivery is absolutely delivering a full seven-day service and we are prepared to go 24/7,” Mr Hancock said, adding: “I think the best thing to do is look at weekly averages and, as you say, you can see that going up, and up fast.”

Asked about regional variations, he said: “We're prioritising the supply of the vaccine into those parts of the country that need to complete the over-80s.

"But we don't want to stop the areas that have effectively done that job already, we want them to carry on” – referring to the sending out of letters to 5 million over-70s in some places.

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