HomeHealth Care NewsU.K.’s Elderly Patients Pushed to Back of the Line During COVID Peak

U.K.’s Elderly Patients Pushed to Back of the Line During COVID Peak

The U.K’s overrun National Health Service (NHS) excluded older people from hospitals and intensive care units during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, an investigation finds.

Over the course of three months, The Sunday Times interviewed 50 intensive care doctors, paramedics, and health care workers throughout the country on the active use of a “triage tool,” created by the NHS’s chief medical advisor, Chris Whitty.

When resources are scarce, triage is a system practitioners use to determine who requires medical treatment first. The physicians in the report describe Whitty’s guidance as a “triage tool.”

The practitioners interviewed stated they were told to identify patients who were frail or elderly before admitting them into a hospital, and NHS data backs up their claims, the Times report states. According to the report, 60 percent of those who died of or with COVID-19 were over the age of 80, but only 2.5 percent were admitted into hospitals and given intensive care. When resources were in peak demand, intensive care dropped by half for an even larger age group: those over 60.

“It is manifestly the case that large numbers of patients did not receive the care that they needed and that’s because the health service didn’t have the resources,” Chaand Nagpaul, a general practitioner and chair of the British Medical Association told The Sunday Times. “Now, we are walking into a second crisis without having learned crucial, even life-saving lessons.”

The U.K. Department of Health denied the triage guidance being published policy.

Lessons for the US

The findings are no surprise, says Colin Craig, president of Secondstreet.org, a think tank and watchdog group that monitors the publicly funded health care system in Canada. Supporters of socialized medicine in the U.S. often refer to Canada’s single-payer system as a model.

“In Canada, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has drafted a framework for triaging patients who need medical care due to COVID-19,” Craig told Health Care News. “Similar to the U.K., it essentially prioritizes support to younger people, if they have a greater chance at recovery. It’s not clear how many hospitals have followed the CMA’s triage guidelines.”

When the pandemic hit, Canada’s health care system was so strapped, it needed to cancel thousands of surgeries, scans, and visits with specialists, Craig says.

“Unlike in the U.K, Canadian governments have outlawed most forms of private health care in our country,” said Craig. “That means thousands of Canadians now face the choice of either waiting an even longer period for surgery or leaving the country and paying out of pocket for treatment.”

Secondstreet.org has documented Canada’s burgeoning health tourism industry that caters to Canadians seeking to leave the country for care.

“Media have reported there have been many non-COVID deaths due to canceled procedures in our health care system,” Craig said. “In some cases, cancer patients have had their treatments delayed by the government. This a major problem when citizens have no choice but to depend on only the government for care.”

AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is managing editor of Health Care News.

Internet info:

 Medical Tourism from Canada, The Heartland Daily Podcast, January 2, 2020: https://www.heartland.org/multimedia/podcasts/medical-tourism-from-canada-guest-colin-craig


Coronavirus ‘Rationing’ Kept Old and Frail Away From Hospitals, The Sunday Times, October 24, 2020: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coronavirus-rationing-kept-old-and-frail-away-from-hospitals-lwltgp5fj




AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.


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