Reflective accounts

Legal responsibilities

A CPD article improved Bernadette Parsons’ understanding of the legal standard of care required by nurses.

A CPD article improved Bernadette Parsons’ understanding of the legal standard of care required by nurses


Picture: John Behets

What was the nature of the CPD activity, practice-related feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?

The article focused on the legal standard of care required in relation to nursing practice and professional standards. It examined how courts in the UK determine if nurses have met their duty of care and what nurses must do to ensure they maintain competence to provide safe care.

What did you learn from the CPD activity, feedback and/or event and/or experience in your practice?

The article discussed the legal responsibilities of nurses. I learned that to bring a successful claim of negligence in law it is necessary to prove that the patient was owed a duty of care by the defendant (doctor, nurse or hospital), and that the defendant breached the duty of care required of them by law. It must also be proved that the breach caused harm and was foreseeable.  

I learned that the Bolam test is used to establish whether a person with a particular skill has been negligent by measuring their actions against the standard expected of a reasonably competent practitioner exercising that skill. 

The article also emphasised that nurses should carefully consider any advice they provide in their practice, since they will be legally responsible for any harm resulting from the advice given. 

How did you change or improve your practice?

The article was relevant to my role as an expert witness, which involves preparing breach of duty reports for the courts. My role is to identify and examine the relevant facts of a case and to express an opinion.  

Reading the article assisted me to reflect on how legal responsibilities with regard to standards of care are interlinked with the workplace, colleagues’ responsibilities and the healthcare organisation’s rules and regulations. 

The article also emphasised that nurses have a duty not to simply follow guidelines, protocols and policies but to critically appraise them, since courts will expect them to be able to justify why they acted as they did, or failed to act.

The information in the article has assisted me to provide clarity in identifying facts and when offering a considered opinion on a case.

How is this relevant to the Code? Select one or more themes: Prioritise people, Practise effectively, Preserve safety, Promote professionalism and trust

The article explained that it is important for nurses to address workplace incivility, which includes rude and discourteous behaviour. This relates to the theme
of prioritising people, which states that nurses must treat others with kindness, respect and compassion.

The article also relates to the theme of promoting professionalism and trust, which states that nurses have a duty to adhere to the laws of the country in which they are practising.

Bernadette Parsons is an independent nurse and expert witness at Maggie Sargent & Associates, Warwickshire


This reflective account is based on NS920 Terry L, Carr G, Halpin Y (2017) Understanding and meeting your legal responsibilities as a nurse. Nursing Standard. 32, 12, 52-62. 

Write your own reflective account

You can gain a certificate of learning by reading a Nursing Standard CPD article and writing a reflective account. To write a reflective account for Nursing Standard, use the NMC reflective accounts form. Complete the four questions about a CPD article you have read, writing about 700 words in total.

The authors of reflective accounts that are published in Nursing Standard receive a £50 book token. Details of how to submit your reflective account for publication are available here.

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