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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: October 2015

Chapter 1 - The operating department practitioner, the patient and the law



Each patient passing through an operating department has a right to be dealt with in a sympathetic and professional manner. This care extends throughout the peri-operative period, a term that describes the time around and including surgery and anaesthesia. Theatre professionals are becoming involved at all stages of this process and in some hospitals only operating department staff look after the day-case patients. Management of this care is discussed in Chapter 3 and many individuals are involved in what may be a lengthy process.

It is, however, important that care meets the highest moral, ethical and legal standards that have been introduced to protect not only the patient and the patient's rights but also those of the theatre worker. This chapter seeks to clarify some of this legislation but also tries to explain why it was introduced in the first place. Some of these topics are dealt with in greater detail elsewhere in the book and will only be mentioned in passing. It is important for the reader to understand that this section deals with English Law and must only be interpreted in this context.


A principle may be defined as a theoretical base which can and must apply to all people in order to maintain a stable society. There are four main principles guiding the actions of the health-care worker:

1. Autonomy - the right to self-determination.

2. Beneficence - to act in a way to do good.

3. Non-maleficence - to act in a way to do no harm.

4. Justice - to be fair to all individuals.

Ignoring these principles may not necessarily be illegal because breaking the law and breaking an ethical code are not the same and it is for this reason that codes of practice have been introduced by the professional organizations. It is not illegal for a doctor to divulge confidential information about a patient, without that patient's consent, to a person not involved with their medical management but it does break the medical code of practice. If this action came to light the doctor would be disciplined and, depending on the seriousness of the complaint, may be suspended from practice.