Expert advice

Legal advice: Can I refuse to care for a patient?

As long as your reasons are not based on discrimination, and it is not an emergency, you can refuse to care for a patient provided you follow your employer’s policy and keep your line manager informed, advises legal expert Marc Cornock.
refuse

As long as your reasons are not based on discrimination, and it is not an emergency, you can refuse to care for a patient provided you follow your employers policy and keep your line manager informed, advises legal expert Marc Cornock

If the professional relationship between a nurse and a patient has broken down through no fault of either party, it is often more appropriate for the patients care and treatment to be provided by another nurse. This could be initiated by the nurse or the patient.

However, in an emergency situation there is no option but to provide the care and treatment the patient requires. This is a professional obligation that only ends when either your skills are no longer required or

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As long as your reasons are not based on discrimination, and it is not an emergency, you can refuse to care for a patient provided you follow your employer’s policy and keep your line manager informed, advises legal expert Marc Cornock

refuse
There may be circumstances when it is inappropriate for a nurse to care
for a particular patient. Picture: iStock

If the professional relationship between a nurse and a patient has broken down through no fault of either party, it is often more appropriate for the patient’s care and treatment to be provided by another nurse. This could be initiated by the nurse or the patient.

However, in an emergency situation there is no option but to provide the care and treatment the patient requires. This is a professional obligation that only ends when either your skills are no longer required or when someone else is available to take over from you.

A non-emergency situation is slightly different. Your contract of employment will require you to fulfil your duties for the benefit of all patients, but there may be circumstances when it is not appropriate for you to administer care to a particular patient.

Appropriate referral

You have every right to raise this with your line manager, explaining why you do not want to care for this patient. Unless your reason for not wanting to do so is based on some form of discrimination, such as sexual orientation or religious belief, due consideration should be given to your request.

If you are the only person who has the skills and competencies required to care for the patient, you must fulfil your duties. But if there is someone else who can provide the care and treatment the patient requires you can request not to care for them, provided you meet your obligation to continue care until someone else can take over from you.

If the situation involves referring the patient to a colleague or another department, you must make the appropriate referral to ensure the patient still receives the care and treatment required before you can walk away.

In all cases, ensure you follow any employer policy and keep your line manager informed of the situation and your actions.


​Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University

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