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Nurse-turned-lawyer issues warning on 'good Samaritan acts'


Nurses who offer help in an emergency should be aware of their potential liability if something goes wrong, according to a lawyer specialising in fitness to practise cases, who warned they must ensure they have indemnity insurance in place.

Penny Maudsley – a former nurse and midwife who is now a barrister at Alexander Chambers – highlighted the problems nurses could run into if they chose to carry out so-called “good Samaritan acts” when they were not at work.

“You may be liable in negligence, so be very careful”

Penny Maudsley

She highlighted that the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s revised code of conduct – which came into effect on March 31 2015 – now states nurses must “always offer help if an emergency arises in your practice setting or anywhere else”.

However, she noted that the code added that registrants must only do so “within the limits of your knowledge and competence”.

Ms Maudsley stressed that nurses now had a duty to intervene if they were competent to do so, but warned there was a possibility they could be sued for negligence or other claims.

Speaking to senior nurses at a Healthcare Conferences UK event on changes to the code of conduct, Ms Maudsley said: “If you do volunteer to help, you take on a duty of care.”

“If something goes wrong and you cause an injury you may be liable in negligence, so be very careful,” she said.

Ms Maudsley stressed that nurses should have personal indemnity insurance in place, which would provide cover for legal costs and expenses if a registrant were sued following a “good Samaritan act” and noted this was now a requirement within the code.

While nurses are usually automatically covered at work because employers such as the NHS will normally have what is called vicarious liability for them. But this would not apply when they are acting off duty, according to Ms Maudsley.

“Vicarious liability only covers employees so would not cover a nurse who assists at the scene of an emergency outside their contract of employment,” she added.


Readers' comments (38)

  • michael stone

    This is one of those things where what looks like common sense to most people, can look different to others: it is very complicated.

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  • So what does the world want us to do? Help or not? This is a double message, you must help, but watch your back? Why doesn't our fee to the NMC do something useful for us, such as include legal protection so we can step in and offer help without fear as per the code of conduct ie to help within our competency.

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  • I personally wouldn't stop to assist because of this very situation and it's not that I'm uncaring or don't feel a sense of duty but in this day and age when adverts on TV are encouraging people to sue for compensation, I don't want to be that unlucky person.

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  • Perhaps it is time for legislation that protects the Good Samaritan from liability as there is in other jurisdictions?

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  • So long as emergency services are on the scene, they ought to be allowed to proceed. Other people can be in the way. You can always offer general help, which may be simply popping into a shop and passing info on. You cannot get into personal info and medical details, as that is the role of those on duty who will note-take and pass info on the relevant hospital as necessary. If I knew someone, I would tell the services as much info as I could which help them identify the person and contact their kin, etc. A modern society has infrastructure in place to cope with emergencies. You should support from the edges and know to move on when you are not needed. Nothing worse than people in the way.

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  • At last!

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  • Pussy

    Quite right. You are on your own. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't and I don't!

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  • We became nurses because we wanted to help. How, then, can we ignore a situation where we could give help? Are we allowed to give first aid? Put pressure on a bleeding wound, perhaps? Reassure somebody whilst waiting for the ambulance? What if a mental health nurse observes somebody who looks as if they are going to jump off a bridge? Yes, let the specialists get on with their job. Obviously, don't do anything we're not trained and competent to do. But I hope the day never comes when fear or litigation makes us walk away from simple, human interaction because we are afraid of the consequences if the casualty doesn't make a complete recovery.

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  • Fear OF litigation, I meant to type, not fear OR litigation. That might be misread.

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  • john warwick

    the only thing a nurse has to fear is if the do some thing wrong malfeasance or doing something above their level of training, if the make a mistake and it hurts the patient then they should be sued and struck off, in the USA law has been in effect for years with no sucessful prosecutions, so dont be afraidto help and on the other hand if you are a nurse and stand by and let someone die then you will be struck off

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