Hospitals' ethics committees draw up clinical policy for wider outbreak

North Estonia Medical Center (PERH).
North Estonia Medical Center (PERH). Source: PERH

A clinical ethics policy will be relayed to Estonian hospitals providing guidelines for medical staff on distributing health care resources in case the COVID-19 pandemic should spread extensively across Estonia.

Kristo Erikson, member of the ethics council of North Estonia Medical Center and one of the authors of the policy, said that such guidelines have become ordinary practice in the world in the present COVID-19 pandemic; for instance, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland have already mapped out their principles for distributing resources concerning emergency medical care and intensive care.

"Such proactive conduct is a logical step in a crisis situation in order to prepare for scenarios that hopefully will never materialize in Estonia and the prevention of which can be aided by all people in Estonia by staying at home, adhering to the emergency situation rules and making sure that the coronavirus does not spread," Erikson said.

"Like elsewhere in the world, in Estonia, too, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic can in the near future cause a situation where not all those infected can be treated according to their needs. Infections and quarantines have significantly disrupted the work of doctors, nurses and other medical staff while the availability of personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals and other medicinal equipment has been hampered by difficulties in supply," the introduction into the principles of conduct reads.

"Even though efforts are made both on hospitals' and the state's level to increase said resources and curb the spread of COVID-19 through movement restrictions imposed on the population, shortages in the number of hospital beds, places in intensive care, ventilators, personal protective equipment and staff may cause a situation where more people require hospitalization than hospitals can provide. In order to better prepare medical staff and hospitals for making difficult decisions and help patients, their next of kin and the society as a whole to comprehending these decisions, the ethical principles of distributing limited resources must be formulated," the document said.

The clinical ethics policy has been drawn up by the ethics council of North Estonia Medical Center, ethics committee of the University of Tartu Hospital and ethics center of the University of Tartu in cooperation with several experts in ethics and law, and will be sent to hospitals across Estonia today.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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