MDU advice for doctors making difficult decisions about competing interests during COVID-19

Action to withdraw life-saving treatment that is in the patient's interests should not be taken unless the court first rules this is lawful.

The Medical Defence Union (MDU), the UK's leading medical defence organisation, has issued advice to its members faced with difficult decisions and competing interests during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive said:

"The question has been raised about whether doctors may face criminal and regulatory investigation when making emergency decisions about the administration and withdrawal of life prolonging treatment.

"As the law currently stands, if a doctor is faced with the dilemma of competing interests between two patients, and the possibility of withdrawing treatment which is in one patient's best interests from that patient in order to treat the other patient, the doctor should first ensure their Trust makes an emergency Court application for a declaration. 

"No action to withdraw life-saving treatment which is in the patient's interests should occur unless the court first rules this is lawful. Emergency declarations of this kind can be obtained very swiftly.

"We hope this dilemma will not arise in practice, given the tremendous efforts which have been made by the NHS to increase capacity to meet the demands of COVID-19. MDU members can contact us for help and advice 24 hours a day should they need to."

This page was correct at publication on 15/04/2020. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.