A guide for RCN members on withdrawing care, conscientious objection, competency concerns and patients refusing your care.
If you find yourself in a situation where you may have to withdraw care you should consider your rationale for taking such action very carefully.
The following situations may justify a refusal to treat, the withdrawal of care or the finding of an alternative:
Before you refuse care you should:
If you are concerned that you have been asked to do something beyond your capabilities, you should discuss your limitations with your manager and arrange for practical help, training and supervision as necessary. Your manager should then ensure that you only ever care for patients that you are competent to care for.
If you are in a position where the procedure to be carried out needs to happen immediately but is beyond your current competence, contact your line manager immediately and seek advice on who can undertake the procedure instead of you.
There is a requirement by all registered practitioners to maintain and enhance their practice throughout their working life, and a responsibility to keep up to date. If there are areas where you are not fully competent then your manager will be able to provide appropriate supervision, training and support until you have acquired the knowledge and skills.
For information on the importance of acknowledging your competence and keeping your skills and knowledge up to date please see the NMC Code.Back to contents
You cannot refuse to be involved in the care of patients because of their condition or the nature of their health problems. All blood and body fluids should be treated as infectious with the exception of the management of health care waste. Please refer to the RCN guidance, The Management of Waste from Health, Social and Personal care (2014)
All health care staff should understand local and national standards for infection control precautions.
Your employer should provide proper protective equipment such as gloves and aprons. Under section nine of the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), personal protective equipment is required to be provided free of charge.
Put any concerns regarding health and safety issues in writing to your unit manager and report your concerns to the health and safety officer in your workplace.Back to contents
If a refusal to treat cannot be justified, then possible sanctions may include:
If you have any concerns, please contact us.Back to contents
Patients may refuse treatment. A patient has the right to personal consideration and respect, however a patient cannot select who provides care for them on the grounds of prejudice.
If the patient insists on refusing your care, where possible talk to the patient about their concerns and discuss the situation with your manager.
A patient may request a nurse or midwife of the same or different gender to carry out certain procedures. There is no legal right to this, however best practice would be to make reasonable efforts to support the patient's request.Back to contents
Page last updated - 25/01/2018