A refusal to go on ventilators is putting critically ill Covid-19 patients at unnecessary risk, senior medics have warned.
The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine has reported an increase in the number of patients and their families who are confronting doctors over fears the machines will kill them.
The body has said this follows theories put forward that the widespread use of ventilators at the start of the pandemic was linked to the high death rate.
The survival rate for ICU patients then improved following the first spike, correlating with a decline in the use of ventilators.
But Dr Alison Pittard, the dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine in London, has said evidence shows the two trends are not related.
Dr Alison Pittard, dean of Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, (pictured) said ICU colleagues are watching patients die over a misguided fear they will die if they are put on a ventilator
Speaking to the Telegraph, she said: ‘It’s really difficult for doctors working in ICU when you see a patient deteriorate and you know that if you don’t put them on a ventilator they are going to die, but they are refusing.
‘They get sicker and sicker and sicker, then you have a situation when they become semi-conscious, so you can’t have an informed conversation.
‘We have to honour our patients’ wishes.’
She told the newspaper that colleagues had watched patients die because they had refused to go on ventilators during the second wave of the pandemic.
In October, Dr Pittard said that the initial response for treating someone with Covid was to sedate and intubate them within 24 hours.
She went on to say that since the first wave, doctors had discovered alternative treatments that meant Covid patients did not necessarily have to be put on ventilators.
Covid patients were frequently put on ventilators at the start of the pandemic last year and this coincided with a high death rate but Dr Pittard says evidence shows trends were not linked
Full mechanical ventilation requires a patient to be intubated and air is then pushed into the lungs, rather than being sucked in by the action of the diaphragm.
The process of sedating the patient, and in some cases even inducing short-term paralysis, to override their breathing reflex weakens the respiratory muscles.
This can make it hard for doctors to take the patient off the machine even if they manage to get the virus under control, limiting the availability of respirators and putting pressure on other resources.
But Dr Pittard says that the high death rate at the start of the pandemic was because patients were dying from the virus and not because they had been put on a ventilator.
She told the Telegraph that the use of ventilators had declined because medics had improved their understanding of the disease and because of the introduction of new treatments such as Dexamethasone – the steroid which was found to dramatically improve Covid patient outcomes.
Dr Pittard added that doctors realised patients were coping with low oxygen saturation levels much better than expected but that once it drops below a certain point, ventilation offers the only chance for survival.
She added: ‘If you get to that point where you are being offered a ventilator, if you refuse there is a 100 per cent chance you are going to die.
‘But if you say yes it’s a 40 to 50 per cent chance. It’s the Covid that’s killing you.’
Yesterday, it was revealed the UK’s Covid cases have plunged yet again after 23,275 people tested positive – down 30.6 per cent on last Saturday.
In a positive sign that England’s third national lockdown is working, 10,000 fewer people tested positive yesterday compared to the 33,552 cases recorded on the same day last week.
Saturday’s week-on-week drop in figures is larger than last Saturdays, which saw an 18 per cent dip in daily cases compared to one week prior.
The daily death toll plummeted as well, as official figures showed 1,200 people died after testing positive – an 11 per cent drop on last Saturday’s 1,348 fatalities.
Data has shown the UK’s ambitious vaccination plan is helping to reduce cases as well as protecting recipients from symptoms.
And, following a week of promising figures, Boris Johnson is considering relaxing lockdown exercise rules to ease the pressure on Britons’ physical and mental health.
Potential rule changes could see Britons allowed to exercise more than once a day, or socially-distanced in groups of three or four.