Doctors have an ethical duty to assist members of the public for Good Samaritan acts and will be covered in the unlikely event of a litigation claim arising, says UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS.
Recent publicity surrounding a locum who refused to leave his office to help an injured person has led to debate over a doctor’s duty in situations where someone who is not a patient requires their help.
MDDUS medical adviser Dr Naeem Nazem reminds doctors of their ethical obligation to assist in an emergency outside of their own practice.
“In the unlikely event of an emergency arising outside of normal medical practice, it is important doctors realise that they are protected,” says Dr Nazem.
“In our experience, the vast majority of doctors would not hesitate to assist in an emergency that occurs while off duty, whether assisting a passenger on a long-haul flight or providing emergency medical assistance to someone in the street.”
MDDUS often fields calls from members asking if they are indemnified for Good Samaritan acts – with doctors particularly concerned over whether or not they would be protected for incidents that occur while overseas.
“We would like to reassure our members that we provide worldwide indemnity for Good Samaritan acts,” says Dr Nazem. “Regardless of whether the person is an existing patient or a complete stranger, doctors have an ethical responsibility to assist anyone in need of emergency medical care.
“Many general practitioners and hospital doctors also have a contractual obligation to assist those in need within their premises, regardless of whether they are patients or not.
“It is highly likely that doctors will at some point in their careers be asked to assist in a professional capacity outside of their working environment. However, when the situation is an emergency, the doctor’s intervention is all the more important. In reality, a doctor is never off duty.
“We would advise doctors to consider the urgency of the situation, act in the patient’s best interests and apply common sense. Doctors should act within the limits of their competence – sometimes the best course of action they can take is to ensure the person gets to a hospital where they can then get the appropriate care and treatment.
“As with any patient, doctors should consider issues of consent and confidentiality and provide details of any treatment or help they have given.”
MDDUS indemnifies members against any legal liabilities arising out of Good Samaritan acts anywhere in the world. These acts are defined as “the provision of medical and dental services in emergency situations outside the scope of an individual’s normal contractual obligations or clinical practice.”
GMC guidance to doctors as stated in Good Medical Practice: “In an emergency, wherever it arises, you must offer assistance, taking account of your own safety, your competence, and the availability of other options for care”.
Source: MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland)