Ethics during COVID-19

A new report delves into the moral dilemmas faced by healthcare workers, including optometrists, during the pandemic

man in a mask

How many acts of selflessness by healthcare professionals have there been during the pandemic? Countless.

However, a new report by the Professional Standards Authority Ethics in Extraordinary Times begins to give a sense of how health workers, including optometrists, responded with kindness during the most trying of circumstances.

Take the trainee intensive care nurse who sourced high-quality hairbrushes for her patients on the intensive care unit to replace the standard issue basic combs.

“People in ICU get really matted hair and she’s thought about that and tried to help,” a colleague explained.

“It’s such a small thing but also such a huge thing about care in the most difficult times,” they highlighted.

Then there was the dentist who rostered all his staff on the final day before the first lockdown to provide free dental care to patients, and hospital staff who took care extra care with patient records so family could be updated on patients in isolation.

“The doctors were aware that the family couldn’t visit. They were making up for it by writing lots of detail, so that if somebody phoned up for an update, it would be there to read it out,” an interviewee noted.

“With everything that’s going on, you think it would be the bare essentials only, but they were writing these really thoughtful, very human sorts of things about people,” they recalled.

During the pandemic, OT has heard from optometrists about their own dilemmas and challenges.

Optometrist Alex Howard shared his pride at how the profession stepped up at the beginning of the pandemic.

“At the beginning, it was scary. You almost forget how scary it was because we just didn’t know what the virus was or whether we were putting ourselves at risk,” he said.

OT reported on a Lytham optometrist who used a 3-D printer to produce more than 1500 face shields that were donated to frontline workers, and a Warwickshire business development manager who spent what was meant to be his wedding day delivering lunch packs to NHS staff. 

As well as highlighting the lengths that healthcare workers went to for their patients, Ethics in Extraordinary Times describes the conflict many professionals experienced between looking after their patients and protecting their own health.

A healthcare worker describes caring for a colleague who contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalised.

“It was like looking at your own future. Plus, there’s the awful guilt that it wasn’t you in the bed,” he said.

The report reflects anger among workers about shortfalls in the provision of personal protective equipment.

“The unforgivable irony of being asked to care for others in a life-threatening situation when we were being totally uncared for. Right from the beginning, you know, we weren’t even given the basics,” an interviewee highlighted.

Healthcare workers were not only concerned about their own wellbeing, with one interviewee describing his concerns about infecting his pregnant partner.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Edinburgh optometrist, Michael O’Kane, described to OT his anxiety at infecting his young daughter, who was born prematurely, with COVID-19.

He described the pandemic as a “defining” moment for people.

“It is important that when the dust settles and everything goes back to normal, you can look back at how you behaved and be proud rather than ashamed. These disasters can really show the best and the worst in people. We need to keep alert but keep kind,” O’Kane reflected.

Do you have any reflections on the ethical considerations you or your practice team has faced during the pandemic? Please get in touch by email and share your thoughts.

OT  asks...

The environment secretary has suggested requirements for wearing face masks may ease from 19 July. Will you continue to wear a face mask when seeing patients?
  • Undecided

    9 3%
  • I am exempt from wearing a face mask

    0 0%
  • Yes

    234 91%
  • No

    14 5%