Legal duties that must be observed by the nurses Essay Example

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Nurses are faced with a plethora of professional, legal and ethical issues in their daily nursing practice (Dickenson, 2010, p. 45). The three main responsibilities of nurses considered to be instrumental in the nursing practice include the duty of care owed to patients, autonomy of the patients, confidentiality and respect for the patients (Dickenson, 2010, p. 45). The above three responsibilities have far legal implications when breached by the nurses and therefore they can be termed as legal duties that must be carefully observed by the nurses.

In the same perspective, the three main responsibilities above form the core of nursing professionalism and thus they are professional duties. They can be termed as ethical duties because the contemplation of the above responsibilities is termed as ethical consideration. In the case study, a number of ethico-legal issues can be identified.

Breach of confidentiality

This is one of the important elements in the nursing practice. The confidentiality rules that guide the nursing practice expects nurses to act professionally and adhere to the ethical duty of keeping patient information confidential (Dimond, 2009, p.25). The reason for this is that confidentiality enhances the trust between the patient and the doctor/nurses which means that the patient can provide the nurses with all the required information with an assurance that such information will be kept confidential by the nurses.

Without being assured of confidentiality, patients are not likely to provide key information that would help in administering treatment. Without the patient’s consent, the information related to the patient must be held confidential and voluntary disclosure of the patient’s information is prohibited by law (Hiroux, 2008, p.12). From the case study, it is evident that the ethical duty of confidentiality has been breached. By disclosing to a colleague how “distressed Annie will be when she finds out she will not be returning home” this has not only brought harm to the patient but it has also ruined the trust that Annie had put on the nurses.

Breach of the duty of care

Every nurse or doctor is under the duty to ensure that patients do not suffer harm as a result of their actions in the nursing practice. In this regard, nurses must evaluate and consider the foreseeable effects of their actions (Johnston, 2010, p. 33). For example, nurses must determine in advance whether administering a particular treatment would be detrimental to the patient or whether such a treatment would bring benefits to the patient.

The duty of care is an ethical consideration that must be highly observed to ensure that patients do not suffer injuries or harm whether physically, mentally, psychologically or emotionally due to the actions of the nurses (Johnston, 2010, p. 33). However, it is evident from the case study that the duty of care was breached when Annie was inadvertently told that her efforts and goal to return home were fruitless because she would not be returning home. Severe harm has been caused to Annie by this disclosure because Annie has become more confused, aggressive, withdrawn and at times attempts to runs away from the ward. This amount to mental, emotional and psychological harm to the patient that the nurse should have foreseen before disclosing the news to the patient (McHale and Tingle, 2007, p. 23). Hence, the duty of care has been breached leading to the harm on the part of the patient.

Breach of the patient’s autonomy

Autonomy is a powerful ethical consideration in the nursing practice. It is a cardinal principle entrenched in the law of medical profession which guides the doctors and nurses in their daily practice (Wicks, 2010, p. 9). Patients are required to be informed of the kind of treatment that should be administered to them. An informed consent should therefore be provided to the patient. The purpose of this is to enhance the trust and relationships between the patients and the doctors by letting the patients to decide whether they are ready to undergo through an intervention deemed necessary for their condition (Wicks, 2010, p. 12).

Patients must be provided with all necessary information and guided to understand the positive and negative effects of refusing to undergo through a certain intervention. In this regard, any competent and mentally sane adult has the right to decide the kind of intervention to be administered on her whether the refusal for such an intervention might lead to death or serious harm.

However, it is evident from the case study that autonomy ethical consideration has been breached. The reason for this is that Annie is an adult and should have been left to decide whether she should undergo through the new intervention of being assessed in the residential care (Wicks, 2010, p. 10). The team and Annie’s son decided to withhold this crucial information from Annie thus ruining further the trust and the relationship between Annie and the nurses.


, Cambridge University Press, p.45. Ethical Issues in Maternal-Fetal MedicineDickenson, D (2010),

, Fourth Edition, London, Longman Press, pp.23-45. Legal Aspects of NursingDimond, B (2009),

. New York: Sage Publishers, pp. 12-34. Basic principles: Individual freedom,& their justification in ethics: Theory & PracticeHiroux, J (2008),

. Oxford, Oxford University Publishers, p.33. Principles & moral rules, in bioethics: A nursing perspective MoralJohnston, M (2010),

2nd Edition Butterworth-Heinman, p. 23Law and NursingMcHale, J & Tingle, J (2007).

9(17): 9-12. Medical Law ReviewWicks, E (2010), The Right To Refuse Medical Treatment Under The European Convention on Human Rights,