Coronavirus patients could have their treatment withdrawn and offered to others who are more likely to survive, new guidance for doctors has warned.

The British Medical Association’s (BMA) latest ethics advice said health professionals could be forced to make ‘grave decisions’ should hospitals become overwhelmed with patients. The document warns that decisions around rationing scarce resources, such as ventilators, could determine whether large numbers of patients will receive life-saving treatment or not. The BMA’s new guidance aims to ensure doctors have clear and ‘ethically sound support’ should they have to make tough decisions around patient care during the pandemic.

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA’s medical ethics committee, said: ‘Looking ahead to the coming weeks, if hard choices are required, we know they will be contested. There will be anger and pain. ‘People who, in normal circumstances, would receive strenuous treatment may instead be given palliation in order to favour those with greater likelihood of benefiting.

‘Nobody wants to make these decisions, but if resources are overwhelmed, these decisions must be made.’ The BMA’s guidance states that during the peak of the pandemic doctors may have to assess a person’s eligibility for treatment based on a ‘capacity to benefit quickly’ basis. ‘Health professionals may be obliged to withdraw treatment from some patients to enable treatment of other patients with a higher survival probability,’ the guidance states. ‘This may involve withdrawing treatment from an individual who is stable or even improving but whose objective assessment indicates a worse prognosis than another patient who requires the same resource.’

It comes as the UK’s coronavirus death toll jumped by 563 in one day to reach 2,352 – the biggest day-on-day rise in deaths so far. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video posted on Twitter that it was a ‘sad, sad day’ and that his ‘thoughts go out to the families of the victims’. Meanwhile, Downing Street said more than 2,000 NHS staff have so far been tested for coronavirus. During the daily briefing, Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director of Public Health England (PHE), said 10,000 coronavirus tests per day were now being carried out and the aim was to get to 25,000 tests by mid-April.