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GPs must not be punished for ‘no PPE, no see’ approach, says MPS

GPs must not be punished for the current situation of PPE shortages faced by the NHS, a medical defence organisation has said.

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) has asked for urgent reassurance from the GMC and employers that doctors who refuse to see a patient with Covid-19, who later comes to harm, due to lack of sufficient PPE, will not face future regulatory repercussions.

It comes as a Pulse survey of GPs revealed that 61% are taking a ‘no PPE, no see’ approach to patient face-to-face consultations during the pandemic.

Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director at MPS, said: ‘It is appalling enough that doctors are placed in the position of having to choose between treating patients and keeping themselves and their other patients safe – this stress should not be compounded by the prospect of being brought before a regulatory or disciplinary tribunal.

‘MPS members who are faced with regulatory or employment action arising from a decision to not see a patient because they lacked the PPE to practise safely, can come to us for advice, support and representation. However, it should not come to this; it is not fair for doctors to be held personally accountable for adverse outcomes that are ultimately the result of poor PPE provision.’

Dr Hendry said that ‘considering the daily challenge doctors continue to face on the supply and adequacy of PPE, through no fault of their own, it seems right and just that they are afforded immunity from investigations by their employer, or the GMC if the patient came to harm’.

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‘Of course, this does not apply to wilful or intentional criminal harm or reckless misconduct,’ he added.

‘We hope to see a statement of reassurance from the GMC and employers as a matter of urgency. Now more than ever, doctors need to know they are supported.’

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘This pandemic is an unprecedented challenge in which clinicians are balancing the imperative to provide care with concerns around their own safety and wellbeing. Doctors are making difficult decisions on a daily basis, and we trust them to continue to use their professional judgment to apply the principles in our guidance.

‘If a concern was raised with us about a doctor’s actions we would need to look at the specifics, as we would any other concern referred to us. We’d also consider the context within which the doctor was working, including information about resources, guidelines or protocols in place at the time.’

The Pulse survey of GPs further revealed that one in four have seen Covid-19 patients face-to-face without PPE, while more than half feel unsafe as a result of the lack of PPE.

The BMA issued updated guidance last week which said GPs are ‘under no obligation’ to treat patients without appropriate protection. It pledged to ‘robustly defend’ GPs who refuse on these grounds.

It comes as Public Health England recently changed its guidance to advise doctors to reuse certain PPE in ‘shortage’ situations and Pulse has reported on GPs relying on donations from dentists and patients for PPE.