Ask a lawyer: Notifying police of stab wounds


Question: I am an ER nurse in a large Calgary hospital.  A young man recently came into the ER with stab wounds to his left arm.  He alleges that he has no knowledge of who the assailant was and does not want me to call the police.  The nature of the wounds and his behaviour lead me to suspect that the wounds may be self-inflicted.  Should I call the police?

Answer:  The Alberta Gunshot and Stab Wound Mandatory Disclosure Act makes it mandatory for health care facilities to report certain information to the police when a gunshot or stab wound is treated.  Some other provinces have similar legislation, although in some jurisdictions, reporting obligations are limited to gunshot wounds. It is important to note that the obligation typically rests with the health care facility, not the individual health care provider.

If employed, nurses should ensure that they follow institutional policies with respect to these mandatory reporting obligations.  If a charge nurse or other designated person is contacted by the nurse with respect to the stab or gunshot wounds, a notation should be placed in the patient’s chart.

In some jurisdictions, including Alberta, reporting is not required if staff reasonably believe that the stab wound is self-inflicted or unintentionally inflicted.  In this case, the patient has suggested that the stab wound was inflicted by a third party, but the nurse has made observations that question the reliability of the information provided by the patient.  The nurse should communicate all relevant information to the designated person at the facility to determine whether a report should be made or whether there is a “reasonable” belief that the wound was self-inflicted.  The nurse should also ensure the observations are appropriately documented in the patient’s chart.  If a report is made, only the specific information authorized by the legislation should be communicated to police.

It is important to note that no legal action can be brought against staff who act in good faith under the Act. 

For more information regarding mandatory reporting obligations and other issues involving nurses interacting with police, see the CNPS infoLAW on Communicating with the Police.

 

Published November 2014

 

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.

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