Expert advice

Legal advice: What should I do if I am asked to perform tasks outside of my competence?

Never perform a task you are not competent to carry out. Doing so puts your nursing career and your patients at risk, warns legal expert Marc Cornock
Unconfident nurse

Never perform a task you are not competent to carry out. Doing so puts your nursing career and your patients at risk, warns legal expert Marc Cornock

When a qualified nurse asks you to perform a task, two things must be agreed: the person delegating the task to you has to be sure they are doing so appropriately, including making sure you are competent to do it, and you have to be sure you are competent to do the task.

If either of these is missing, you should not be doing the task unsupervised. The person delegating could instead use the situation as a learning opportunity for you.

Speak up about concerns

If you are not competent and dont speak up, then undertake the task and something

Never perform a task you are not competent to carry out. Doing so puts your nursing career and your patients at risk, warns legal expert Marc Cornock 

Unconfident nurse
It is vital that nurses work within their area of confidence.
Picture: iStock

When a qualified nurse asks you to perform a task, two things must be agreed: the person delegating the task to you has to be sure they are doing so appropriately, including making sure you are competent to do it, and you have to be sure you are competent to do the task. 

If either of these is missing, you should not be doing the task unsupervised. The person delegating could instead use the situation as a learning opportunity for you. 

Speak up about concerns

If you are not competent and don’t speak up, then undertake the task and something goes wrong, both you and the person who delegated it would be accountable. 

As a student, you could face a disciplinary hearing with your university, and as lack of competence is one of the determinants as to whether negligence has occurred, you could also face legal action. 

If someone asks you to do something you are not competent to do unsupervised, tell them you are not competent to do it. If they insist, tell them that in delegating a task to you, they are ultimately accountable for that action. 

Breaching the code

You can go further and tell them that a registered nurse who delegates a task to someone who is not competent to undertake it is breaching the Nursing and Midwifery Council code, and could face a disciplinary hearing as a result. 

If the person does not listen, your next course of action would be to inform the ward manager, or another senior nurse, of your concerns. 

It is vital that you work within your area of competence, and that you let someone know when something falls outside of your competence. If you don’t stand up for yourself, it is your future registration and professional career that is in jeopardy, as well as the welfare of your patients. 


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

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