Coronavirus: families look to courts over relatives' access to intensive care

Coronavirus: families look to courts over relatives' access to intensive care
© Belga

Doctors in Liège are facing legal proceedings as families look to the courts over conflicts surrounding access to hospitals' strained intensive care units (ICU).

The new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has hiked the pressure on hospitals as medical staff try to cope with surging hospitalisation rates and not enough available beds or resources.

The Montlégie hospital in Liège is under particular pressure from families, whose lawyers invoke the Patients Rights Act over their elderly relatives' access into an ICU, De Morgen reports.

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Several Belgian media also reports that a family of a 91-year-old patient with underlying conditions has already launched summary proceedings after the patient was not admitted into the ICU.

According to the latest government figures on Sunday, there are currently over 5,700 Covid-19 patients in the hospital out of whom 1,261 require intensive care.

"We are also seeing that general practitioners are pressured into sending patients into the hospitals, with some families also threatening them with legal proceedings if they refuse [to recommend hospitalisation]," an ICU doctor in another Liège hospital told La Libre.

In mid-March, the Belgian Society of Intensive Care Medicine published ethical guidelines to steer decisions how to use hospital resources, reportedly at the request of federal authorities as the number of confirmed cases of the virus soared.

The publication came as reports emerged that overcrowded Italian hospitals were choosing which patients to put on the ICU or on a ventilator since "not everyone could be intubated."

Reacting to news of the legal proceedings, medical law specialist Flip Dewallens said that, given the current circumstances, the claims had little chance of success.

"Doctors behave carefully when following the guidelines of the Crisis Centre and its scientific associations," Dewallens said. "Judges also realise that the care in the event of shortages [of medical equipment and supplies] is different than in optimal circumstances."

But Dewalles said that a claim still faced "those who give the best of themselves, day and night" with a "harsh" liability procedure, calling on the government to issue a power of attorney decision to give health professionals immunity as they "adhere to the scientific guidelines" to navigate the coronavirus pandemic with limited staff and resources.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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