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Matt Hancock Says Emergency Legislation To Protect NHS Staff From Lawsuits Is “Not Necessary At This Point”

Matt Hancock said NHS was “not in a position where doctors have to make those sorts of choices” (PA)

4 min read

Emergency legislation to protect NHS staff from lawsuits over coronavirus deaths is “not necessary at this point”, the health secretary has claimed.

It comes after numerous health bodies signed a letter coordinated by the Medical Protection Society (MPS), which called on Matt Hancock to ensure more legal protection for doctors and nurses forced to make difficult decisions amid the pressures of the pandemic. 

The letter, which was released on Saturday, warned that, if the NHS was overwhelmed, "doctors and nurses could be forced to choose which patients to treat, who would live and who would die".

It said: "With the chief medical officers now determining that there is a material risk of the NHS being overwhelmed within weeks, our members are worried that not only do they face being put in this position but also that they could subsequently be vulnerable to a criminal investigation by the police."

Emergency legislation was needed to shield NHS staff from “inappropriate” lawsuits when dealing with such difficult decisions, the letter warned, as current guidance offered no such protection.

But Mr Hancock insisted to reporters on Monday the NHS was “not in a position where doctors have to make those sorts of choices”.

“I very much hope that we don't get in that situation, and that everybody can get the treatment that they deserve,” he said at a Downing Street press conference. 

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

He continued: “I also want to add how much I admire and understand the strain on doctors who are having to work in incredibly difficult circumstances, and how grateful I am to them because those judgments weigh heavily. 

“And so, of course I keep this under review and I take very seriously questions of this nature, but I am reassured that we do not have to change the law on this point.”

Meanwhile, NHS medical director Stephen Powis insisted that, despite the NHS being “under huge amounts of pressure” its staff were doing “a magnificent job in coping with the number of patients”. 

“The priority all along has been to ensure that we can flex our capacity,” he explained. 

“We can open that extra capacity so that doctors and other clinicians can do what they always do, which is to make decisions which are in the best interests of the patients that they are treating in front of them. 

Earlier in the press conference, it was revealed that 4 million people have now been vaccinated nationwide as the UK begins offering the jab to the over 70s and the clinically extremely vulnerable. 

Announcing the milestone, health secretary Mr Hancock said the country was “on the route out” as he urged the public not to “blow it” by flouting restrictions now.

“Our approach of course is to save as many lives as possible as quickly as possible and to reduce the pressure on the NHS,” he said. 

“We're on track to deliver our plan to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups by the middle of February, the groups that account for 88% of COVID deaths. 

“And I'm very glad to report that as of midnight last night, we have now vaccinated 4,062,501 people across the United Kingdom, and we're currently vaccinating more than double the rate per person per day than any other country in Europe

Mr Hancock continued: “Latest data shows that we've now vaccinated more than half of those over 80, as well as half of our elderly care home residents. And we all know that these are the groups who are most vulnerable to COVID.”

And, commenting on the decision announced earlier on Monday to offer the vaccine to more groups on the government’s priority list.

“From today, we can start moving on to the over 70s and those under 70 who are clinically extremely vulnerable,” he said at the Downing Street press conference.

“We're doing this because it's the best way both to maximise the pace of the rollout, and to deliver according to the clinical prioritisation, all with the goal of saving as many lives as possible as quickly as possible and reducing the pressures on the NHS.”

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