Balancing health worker well-being and duty to care: an ethical approach to staff safety in COVID-19 and beyond

J Med Ethics. 2020 Sep 25:medethics-2020-106557. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2020-106557. Online ahead of print.


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks that can be involved in healthcare work. In this paper, we explore the issue of staff safety in clinical work using the example of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the COVID-19 crisis. We articulate some of the specific ethical challenges around PPE currently being faced by front-line clinicians, and develop an approach to staff safety that involves balancing duty to care and personal well-being. We describe each of these values, and present a decision-making framework that integrates the two. The aim of the framework is to guide the process of balancing these two values when staff safety is at stake, by facilitating ethical reflection and/or decision-making that is systematic, specific and transparent. It provides a structure for individual reflection, collaborative staff discussion, and decision-making by those responsible for teams, departments and other groups of healthcare staff. Overall the framework guides the decision maker to characterise the degree of risk to staff, articulate feasible options for staff protection in that specific setting and identify the option that ensures any decrease in patient care is proportionate to the increase in staff well-being. It applies specifically to issues of PPE in COVID-19, and also has potential to assist decision makers in other situations involving protection of healthcare staff.

PMID:32978305 | DOI:10.1136/medethics-2020-106557