Law and Professional Code of Practice
Many of the decisions that health care professionals make in the course of their practice are affected by legal principles, moral reasoning, code of professional practice and it is important for the health care professional (nurses) to be able to differentiate between ethical principles, the law and codes of professional conduct.
It is also helpful to the nurses to develop a clear understanding of the law, ethical issues and code of professional practice pertaining to their profession as a way of improving high standards and to hold each health professional accountable for his or her responsibilities or actions within legal and ethical matters. This is essential to ensuring that decisions are consistent with applicable legal and ethical principles because often nurses act as advocates for their patients.
Usually the nurses are required to possess a certain amount of knowledge, skill and competency in ethical decision making for the best interest of the patient.
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Law is the collection of binding rules of human conduct or action imposed by the authority, society or custom. There is a need for every nurse to have a clear understanding of the legal implications of their work so that they can protect themselves and their patients. Also this will help protect them from criminal charges and civil claims when they treat and care for patients.
Registered nurses and midwives in the United Kingdom are regulated by the nursing and midwifery council which is a statutory body set by the parliament of the United Kingdom through the Nursing and Midwifery Order (2002). This order aims to investigate allegations, lack of competence, promoting standards and to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the public. There are different types of law that is public, civil, criminal and private. For example assisted suicide or euthanasia is against the law in the UK and is illegal to help someone kill themselves.
As the law stands, a patient suffering from chronic pain at the end stage of terminal illness and has lost hope in life cannot seek assistance to commit suicide from health care professional. Any medical or nursing practitioners found to have assisted a patient to die in the UK would face criminal charges and would be struck off the register. Ethical theories represent the best ideas on which guiding principles are based and they attempt to answer ethical situations, that is they explores various methods of moral reasoning to make judgement about a course of action.
Understanding ethical theories can help healthcare professional get a clearer view in the possible course of action and the principles underlying the right action. There are two types of ethical theories that are used for decision making and they are deontology and utilitarianism. Deontology is an ethical approach that is concerned with rules and duties. It emphasizes that an individual will follow his/her obligation because upholding one’s duty is considered ethically correct.
The other theory is the utilitarianism which suggests that a moral choice is right if it tends to maximize the greatest happiness . there are two types of utilitarianism theories, Act utilitarianism which goes by the theory that a person/individual performs the act that benefit the most people regardless of personal feeling or societal constraints such as law and the rule utilitarianism which seeks to benefit the most people through fairness or rules and if this is followed would lead to greater good for the greater number.
For example, the patient might ask the nurse not to inform her family about her diagnosis or prognosis because she does not want to worry them and fear disruption in their live that such information would bring, yet it may seem that the family could provide valuable support for her, it would be not acceptable but required that the nurse disclose this information to the family, disclosing the information without the patient’s consent is wrong because the nurse has to respect patient confidentiality.
The ethical theories helps to view points especially when the correct or morally (right) course of action is not immediately apparent when ethical issues are encountered and also there is disagreement among family members or members of the health care team as to the most appropriate action to be taken. Codes of professional practice are statements and description of require behaviours; responsibilities and actions expected of employee of an organization or from a nurse of a professional body e. . NMC. Code of professional conduct is concerned with the maintenance of good practice within the profession and all members must adhere to this code of professional conduct. If a health professional breaks the codes, he may be called for a disciplinary hearing. All nurses/midwives have duty of care to take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to their patients /clients. Code of professional practice expects nurse/midwives to have skills, knowledge and competency to carry out their role.
They must also be aware of their limitations and consequences of the decisions they make. If they fall short of expected standards of care , they may be charged with negligence. This professional code of conduct encompasses moral and ethical principles and laws. For example a nurse might attempt to inform the relatives of a patient with a communicable disease against the patient’s wishes in order to protect cross infection.
The nurse has a duty of care to protect the patient confidentiality and also a duty to protect the public. There is a big difference between law, ethical code and code of professional practice. Ethic is neither the law nor it a code of professional conduct. Law is usually enforced through exerting power to control individual freedom and is a command, if an individual breaks the law she/she is will face punishment. Ethics are concerned with human action, their effect and value of those actions.
They are learned through a more organized system such as professional groups and they are based on moral reasoning and decision making. Individuals have moral rights which are grounded by ethical principles and rules. Codes of professional practice are concerned with duties, responsibilities, and behaviours directed to its members.