Doctors In Italy Are Not Abandoning Elderly Patients Despite What Fear-Mongers Are Saying Online

by : Lucy Connolly on : 17 Mar 2020 16:20
Doctors In Italy Are Not Abandoning Elderly Patients Despite What Fear-Mongers Are Saying OnlinePA Images

In recent days, social media has been rife with claims that doctors in Italy are choosing not to treat elderly patients with coronavirus due to ‘socialised medicine’. 

As of Monday evening, March 16, there were 23,073 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 2,158 reported deaths in Italy, the hardest-hit country outside of China.


While it’s true that Italy’s healthcare system is overwhelmed by the virus and hospitals are being stretched beyond their limits, the above claim is – in no uncertain terms – false. Italy’s doctors are not abandoning the elderly.

Italy coronavirusPA Images

The claim surfaced in the US last week on social media amid fears America would soon be as overwhelmed as Italy, with a meme pointing the finger of blame at the country’s national health service.

It read:


Italy has decided NOT to treat their elderly for this virus!!!! That, my friends, is socialised healthcare!!!!

This same claim was later presented as a criticism against ‘universal healthcare’ by Charlie Kirk, the chairman of Republican lobby group Students for Trump – a youth group whose only goal is to get Donald Trump re-elected.

Taking to Twitter, Kirk asked: ‘How is socialised medicine working out for Italy? Top health officials recently suggested that age limits be put in place for treatment and that the elderly should no longer receive care.’

charlie kirk makes claims about italy's healthcare systemcharliekirk11/Twitter

The claim that Italy has simply ‘decided’ not to treat the elderly, and that the elderly will ‘no longer’ receive care across the country, is not true.

As per fact-checking website Snopes, the claim ‘appears to represent both an exaggeration and distortion of news reports and events in Italy regarding coronavirus’.

What is true is that Italy’s already overwhelmed healthcare system may soon be forced to use ‘catastrophe medicine guidelines’ – previously only used in war zones and during natural disasters – which rations treatment and prioritises certain people.

italy coronavirusPA Images

Last week, the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI) published guidelines for the criteria doctors and nurses should follow in the context of ‘grave shortage of health resources’.

In this situation, according to the guidelines, those with the ‘best hope of life’ should be prioritised. The guidelines also say limits could be put on intensive care units to reserve limited resources to those who have a ‘greater likelihood of survival’ and those who have ‘more potential years of life’.

Giulio Gallera, the Health and Welfare Regional Minister in Lombardy leading the emergency response, said on Thursday, March 12, he hoped the guidelines never needed to be applied.

italy coronavirusPA Images

To make it clear, these guidelines have not been put in place because Italy has a national health service – or ‘socialised medicine’, as it’s referred to in the US – no matter how much supporters of a private insurance-based healthcare system would have you believe.

Instead, it’s a direct consequence of the high number of COVID-19 cases that have stretched Italy’s hospitals beyond capacity, despite the fact the health service in the north of Italy is one of the best in the world.

The president of SIAARTI, Flavia Petrini, told the New York Times:

No one is getting kicked out, but we’re offering criteria of priority. These choices are made in normal times, but what’s not normal is when you have to assist 600 people all at once.

Coronavirus italyPA Images

Yes, such measures might seem drastic and yes, reading about them can be scary – especially when myths and misinformation are spread online. But nobody is getting abandoned, or ‘kicked out’.

As Flavia explained, such choices have to be made in hospitals normally, just not to such an extent as is necessary during this public health crisis.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has also maintained that everyone who needs care is entitled to it, stating, as per the New York Times:

We live in a system in which we guarantee health and the right of everyone to be cured. It’s a foundation, a pillar, and I’d say a characteristic of our system of civilisation. And thus we can’t allow ourselves to let our guard down.

So no, doctors and nurses aren’t ‘abandoning’ elderly patients – they’re doing the best they possibly can in a strained and almost impossible situation.

Rather than pointing the finger of blame in their direction, or at the healthcare system they work so hard to protect, we should instead be praising them for their unwavering bravery at a time of crisis.

Dr. Daniele Macchini, who works at the Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in the northern city of Bergamo, is just one example of this, after he detailed the work of his fellow colleagues in an emotional Facebook post.

The doctor described it as ‘incredible’ how his team managed to implement a deployment and reorganisation of resources ‘so finely designed to prepare for a disaster of this magnitude in such a short time’.

In una delle costanti mail che ricevo dalla mia direzione sanitaria a cadenza più che quotidiana ormai in questi giorni,…

Posted by Daniele Macchini on Friday, March 6, 2020

His post continued (translated to English):

Every reorganisation of beds, wards, staff, work shifts and tasks is constantly reviewed day after day to try to give everything and even more… The staff is exhausted. I saw fatigue on faces that didn’t know what it was despite the already gruelling workloads they had.

I have seen people still stop beyond the times they used to stop already, for overtime that was now habitual. I saw solidarity from all of us, who never failed to go to our internist colleagues to ask ‘what can I do for you now?’ or ‘leave that hospitalisation alone’.

Doctors who move beds and transfer patients, who administer therapies instead of nurses. Nurses with tears in their eyes because we cannot save everyone.

coronavirus mural italyPA Images

It’s never been more important to cut through the noise and get to the facts, but the only way we can do this is by listening to the experts – and only the experts. We can’t do it if such harmful claims continue to be spread across the internet and believed with ease.

By only listening to the experts, such false claims will become powerless and we can prevent them from causing fear and uncertainty at a time when there is already too much of that in the world.

It’s okay to not panic. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our coronavirus campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization on coronavirus, click here.

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Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: News, Coronavirus, COVID-19, doctors, Health, Italy, Pandemic


Snopes and 4 others
  1. Snopes

    Has Italy Stopped Treating the Elderly in the COVID-19 Pandemic?

  2. Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care (SIAARTI)


  3. New York Times

    Italy’s Health Care System Groans Under Coronavirus — a Warning to the World

  4. Palazzo Chigi/YouTube

    Dichiarazioni alla stampa del Presidente Conte

  5. Daniele Macchini/Facebook

    Daniele Macchini