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”
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.