MDU advice for doctors making difficult decisions about competing interests during COVID-19

The Medical Defence Union (MDU), the UK’s leading medical defence organisation, has issued advice to its members faced with difficult decisions and competing interests during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr Christine Tomkins, MDU chief executive said:

“The question has been raised about whether doctors may face criminal and regulatory investigation when making emergency decisions about the administration and withdrawal of life prolonging treatment.

“As the law currently stands, if a doctor is faced with the dilemma of competing interests between two patients and the possibility of withdrawing treatment which is in the patient’s best interests from that patient, in order to treat another patient, the doctor should first ensure their Trust makes an emergency application for a declaration to the Court of Protection.

“No action to withdraw life-saving treatment which is in the patient’s interests should occur unless the court first rules this is lawful. Emergency declarations of this kind can be obtained very swiftly.

“We hope this dilemma will not arise in practice, given the tremendous efforts which have been made by the NHS to increase capacity to meet the demands of COVID-19. MDU members can contact us for help and advice 24 hours a day should they need to.”


The MDU is a not-for-profit organisation wholly dedicated to our members’ interests. Our team is led and staffed by doctors with real-life experience of the pressures and challenges faced in practice.

We offer our members expert guidance, personal support and robust defence in addressing medico-legal issues, complaints and claims. Our customised services range from legal assistance to indemnity to appropriate CPD.


Dawn Boyall, Jessica Hammonds, Fernanda Nidecker in the MDU’s press office

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