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Chapter 2 explained the main areas of the law, including the differences between civil and criminal law. This chapter will focus on one of the main parts of the civil law that is relevant for nurses: the law of negligence. The law of negligence allows a person to bring legal proceedings against another person to correct a wrong or harm that the other person has done to them. Usually the person who has been harmed (the plaintiff) will seek payment of money (called ‘damages’) in compensation for their injury from the person whose act or omission caused the harm (the defendant).
This chapter will outline the key parts of the law of negligence, with a particular focus on the special rules that have developed in relation to health-care professionals, including nurses. By understanding how the law applies to things nurses do that can cause people harm, it should be possible for nurses to better avoid acting negligently.
Although nursing is a health-care profession, and nurses are required to have clinical skills in order to practise, the law establishes expectations that must be met. When a health-care professional such as a nurse fails to meet these standards, the law can intervene in a number of ways that can have very significant consequences.
For example, in 2011 a six-year-old boy named Jack was admitted to the Children’s Assessment Unit at Leicester Hospital in England around 10.30 a.m. Jack had Down syndrome and a known heart condition. He had been suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea, and had difficulty breathing. He was cared for by a trainee paediatrician, Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, and nursing staff, including Ms Isabel Amaro. Jack died that evening from an infection. His death was immediately reported to the Coroner.
Every day, registered nurses are required to act and make decisions based on their moral and legal obligations. They must build professional, culturally safe relationships with patients, understand patient rights and the requirements of consent, and prevent and manage clinical mistakes in order to avoid negligence and abuse of power. Now in its fifth edition, Ethics and Law for Australian Nurses guides students through foundational concepts such as personhood, autonomy, trust, consent and vulnerability, and considers a nurse's responsibilities in relation to voluntary assisted dying, abortions and advanced care directives. It explains the Australian legal system and how it relates to nursing practice. This edition discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on elderly Australians, as well as on injury and negligence claims. It includes updated discussions on guardianship, assisted dying, abortion and 'not for resuscitation' orders.
This book has considered ethics in the context of human vulnerability. We are vulnerable because we can be affected by things across the life span, and we can be affected by things because we are physical beings – part of the world around us and subject to the passage of time. Consequently, a life can come to an end at any time. For this reason, death is not only completely normal, but inevitable. Nevertheless, death is typically regarded as something regrettable. Issues of personhood and autonomy lie at the centre of bioethical debates about the ending of human life, especially where this involves abortion and euthanasia. Against the backdrop of these issues, this chapter provides an overview of the main legal and ethical considerations relating to abortion and euthanasia.
The focus of this chapter is consent. Consent concerns the granting or withholding of permission to receive care. This chapter addresses the legal requirements of consent for adults and children, and looks at the place of guardianship and advocacy in decision-making. It also considers the situation of people who are not mentally competent who may require emergency care or who need to be restrained against their will. Consent is fundamental to the moral and professional principle that health care should be geared to the patient’s interests as the patient understands them. This is sometimes referred to as ‘patient-centred care’.
This chapter addresses the topic of information we receive about or from patients and introduces the concepts of privacy and confidentiality in relation to the management of patient information. In this chapter we also outline legal requirements for reporting harmful conduct of health professionals and others. Providing excellent nursing care for a patient requires that each nurse involved in the patient’s care acquire relevant information from the patient (or a representative) concerning the patient’s symptoms, their lifestyle, their medications, their concerns and their experiences. Therefore, nurses routinely see, hear, read and record things about other people that are not normally discussed outside the health-care setting, and have privileged access to matters of patient privacy. This brings with it certain legal and moral obligations. Therefore, managing information about patients is one of the most important ethical and legal roles nurses play in health care and, owing to modern technology (as we discuss below), it is arguably one of the greatest challenges faced by professional practice.