This article was published in May 2020 and reflects information current at the time of publication.
Nurses are a key asset during a pandemic
Prior to becoming licensed in any registration category, nurses complete years of education, pass exams, and then undertake continuing professional development throughout their professional careers. Nursing knowledge and skills are accompanied by competencies such as effective professional presence, critical thinking, triage, and advocacy. During extraordinary circumstances like a global pandemic, professional nursing services, particularly clinical and administrative, are needed even more acutely than usual. Do not underestimate their importance; there is no substitute for them. This reality is reflected in standards and guidelines produced by nursing regulators, as well as in the CNA Code of Ethics, sometimes described as the duty to provide care.
Reconciling a patient’s need for nursing services and a nurse’s concern about personal safety may be challenging
A careful reading of nursing practice standards and guidance documents and the CNA Code of Ethics reveals an acknowledgment that along with the professional obligation to provide nursing services in difficult circumstances, nurses are not expected to accept all risks to themselves or their patients. Review the written guidance by your nursing regulator if you find yourself questioning how to handle the competing priorities of a patient’s need for professional nursing services and concerns over your own personal safety. If you are conflicted, engage with management and other resources such as the union or human resources, clinical ethics committee, or risk management committee in order to participate in finding a resolution.
Nurses have legal obligations but so do others
Health institutions are obliged to take reasonable care in hiring personnel and having safe systems for patients in place (which includes a variety of things such as having appropriate supplies, etc.), and also have specific duties as employers, including occupational health and safety. A pandemic has the power to test the balance of these priorities. Nurses understandably tend to wonder about their individual legal obligations but they are not alone in having responsibilities within the health care system: other team members, the health institution, public health officials, and all three levels of government (municipal, provincial, federal) will take action alongside nurses to address the unique issues a pandemic will bring.
Knowing the successful defences to common allegations allows you to concentrate on your practice
The most common allegations against nurses are: unprofessional or unethical nursing practice; and negligence. The successful defence to an allegation of unprofessional or unethical practice is evidence of your adherence to the legitimate professional expectations contained within your nursing regulator’s standards, practice guidelines, and code of ethics. The successful defence to an allegation of negligence is evidence of having acted as the reasonable nurse in the circumstances to avoid foreseeable harm to the patient. Working during a pandemic will present nurses with situations that are less than ideal. Nurses are well-positioned to use their knowledge, skills, and competencies to participate in the planning and delivery of nursing care that is reasonable in the pressing circumstances of a pandemic.
Additional questions or concerns?
Please know that you are not alone in this. The CNPS team is fully operational and available to respond to your questions or concerns.
CNPS beneficiaries can contact CNPS at 1-800-267-3390 to speak with a member of CNPS legal counsel. All calls are confidential.
Published May 2020.
THIS PUBLICATION IS FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY. NOTHING IN THIS PUBLICATION SHOULD BE CONSTRUED AS LEGAL ADVICE FROM ANY LAWYER, CONTRIBUTOR OR THE CNPS. READERS SHOULD CONSULT LEGAL COUNSEL FOR SPECIFIC ADVICE