Ethics & law
Should you stop to assist in an emergency when off duty?
What does the law say about being a Good Samaritan?
- By: Fiona H Smith, Edward Kirkhope
In the United Kingdom there is no legal duty for anyone to stop and assist someone in need of medical attention—whether doctor, nurse, paramedic, or first aider. In fact, your only duty is not to make the patient’s condition worse.1 One exception to this absence of legal duty is in the case of general practitioners, who have a contractual duty to provide emergency treatment to anyone within their practice area.2
Importantly, however, it can be argued that all healthcare professionals have a moral and professional duty to assist. Beneficence and non-maleficence—two core medical ethics principles—reflect this duty, as together they aim to produce a net medical benefit to patients over harm.3 Within the context of coming across an incident off duty, stepping in to provide any form of medical assistance—from a simple assessment of the situation, to calling the appropriate emergency services, to initiating immediate medical management—can be argued as