The NHS reportedly drew up secret plans to withdraw hospital care for nursing home residents during a pandemic.
Government documents show that pensioners in their 70s would be denied treatment and instead be offered “end of life pathways”, according to The Telegraph.
The plan was reportedly made by NHS England after a 2016 pandemic planning exercise and was intended to stop hospitals being overwhelmed.
Under the proposed scenario, the Health Secretary would be able to sign off on doctors prioritising certain patients over others in the event of a “severe” flu pandemic, it is claimed.
The Health Secretary would even be able to give medics permission to stop critical care for some patients, The Telegraph claims.
It comes after some care homes were told to introduce blanket “do not resuscitate” orders for patients at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report last year.
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The Queen’s Nursing Institute found that one in 10 care home staff expressed alarm about being asked to impose DNR plans for all residents – which say a patient should not be revived with a defibrillator or CPR.
And some staff reported that the decision was taken without discussion with families, nurses or residents.
Professor Alison Leary, one of the report’s authors, said the findings were “really worrying” and called for an inquiry.
Labour said the use of blanket orders was “scandalous” and the National Pensioners’ Convention’s Jan Shortt said the survey proved “our oldest and most vulnerable were merely seen as collateral damage”.
One staff member said they were advised “to have them [DNR orders] in place for all residents” but staff challenged the move as it was unethical.
Another said the orders were “sometimes changed without inclusion of family or the resident”.
Half of those concerned worked in care homes with elderly residents, while half worked with younger people with learning disabilities.
The survey revealed that a fifth (21%) of the 163 respondents had received patients from hospitals who tested positive for coronavirus in March and April.
And 43% of staff reported that patients arrived without being tested.
Prof Leary, an expert from London South Bank University, told The Telegraph: “That 10% of respondents raised an issue is really worrying.
“These decisions were being made by NHS managers, not clinicians. And this wasn’t just happening with elderly people, it was those with learning disabilities or cognitive problems of all ages. I think there should be an inquiry.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the Mirror that it was “atrocious failure” by Boris Johnson that care home residents and staff had been left “unprotected and exposed to Covid-19”.
He added: “It’s scandalous that blanket do not resuscitate orders were used.”