Horrified disabled activists have raised concerns about an NHS consultant who appeared to suggest publicly that he and his colleagues would not attempt to resuscitate many older and disabled people if they became seriously ill with coronavirus.
Dr Matt Morgan, a researcher, author and critical care consultant, has been widely praised on social media for an emotive open letter he read out on Channel Four News (pictured) that was addressed to “the elderly, frail, vulnerable, or those with serious underlying health conditions”.
In his letter, he tells this group of potential patients that he and his colleagues had not forgotten about them and that it “must be so hard listening to endless news reports that end with ‘don’t worry, this illness mainly affects the elderly, frail, vulnerable, or those with serious underlying health conditions’”.
Dr Morgan, who works in the intensive care unit at University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, says in the letter that the health service’s “fancy machines, powerful drugs, and talented staff” do not “cure every disease” and intensive care sometimes “offers no fix”.
He then promises that he and his colleagues will be “honest” with patients in that situation and will use “all of the treatments that may work and may get you back to being you again”, such as oxygen, intravenous fluids and antibiotics.
But he then says that they will not use “the things that won’t work”, will not use “machines that can cause harm” and “won’t press on your chest should your heart stop beating”, as “these things won’t work”.
He even suggests that his open letter is from “all of the NHS”, rather than just himself, his department, his hospital, or his own health board.
His letter came as the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities warned that little had been done to protect the rights of disabled people across the world during the pandemic (see separate story).
Catalina Devandas Aguilar said governments should be reassuring disabled people that their survival was a priority and establishing “clear protocols” to ensure that access to healthcare did not discriminate against disabled people.
Appalled disabled activists pointed out that Dr Morgan appeared to be saying that he and his colleagues would put a blanket “do not attempt resuscitation” notice on all patients with coronavirus who were “elderly, frail, vulnerable” or had “serious underlying health conditions”.
Dennis Queen, a disabled activist with Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), although not speaking on behalf of NDY UK, said: “I was deeply worried when I came across this Channel 4 video of a doctor apparently speaking on behalf of NHS staff.
“The message was aimed at all of us more vulnerable to infection and seemed to be outlining a limited treatment plan, in advance.
“He was graphic about all staff’s intent not to resuscitate us, in a way that struck fear into me.
“At no point did he explain how this differs from the treatment they offer anyone else.
“I couldn’t sleep that night because an ICU doctor in black scrubs seemed to have given me and my friends a blanket ‘do not resuscitate’ order, having never met us.
“This video is so alarming I haven’t shared it on my Facebook wall for other people to see because I’m worried it will cause widespread panic.
“This message was unclear, and it needs urgently clarifying who it’s from and what it means.”
Despite repeated requests, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, which runs University Hospital of Wales, had not been able to comment by noon today (Thursday).
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
The Department of Health and Social Care
National Survivor User Network