Rationing care by frailty during the COVID-19 pandemic

Emma Grace Lewis, Matthew Breckons, Richard Lee, Catherine Dotchin, Richard Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is disproportionately affecting older people and those with underlying comorbidities. Guidelines are needed to help clinicians make decisions regarding appropriate use of limited NHS critical care resources. In response to the pandemic, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published guidance that employs the Clinical Frailty Scale (CFS) in a decision-making flowchart to assist clinicians in assessing older individuals’ suitability for critical care. This commentary raises some important limitations to this use of the CFS and cautions against the potential for unintended impacts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed the widespread implementation of the CFS with limited training or expert oversight. The CFS is primarily being used to assess older individuals’ risk of adverse outcome in critical care, and to ration access to care on this basis. While some form of resource allocation strategy is necessary for emergencies, the implementation of this guideline in the absence of significant pressure on resources may reduce the likelihood of older people with frailty, who wish to be considered for critical care, being appropriately considered, and has the potential to reinforce the socio-economic gradient in health.

Our incomplete understanding of this novel disease means that there is a need for research investigating the short-term predictive abilities of the CFS on critical care outcomes in COVID-19. Additionally, a review of the impact of stratifying older people by CFS score as a rationing strategy is necessary in order to assess its acceptability to older people as well as its potential for disparate impacts.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberafaa171
Pages (from-to)7-10
Number of pages4
JournalAge and Ageing
Issue number1
Early online date28 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2021


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