There are two aspects that need to be considered:
There is no legal duty to volunteer help in an emergency situation. The legal duty of care generally only arises when a practitioner has assumed some responsibility for the care of the patient concerned (see above). Accordingly, if a nurse is at a road traffic accident they do not have a legal duty of care to offer aid to any person injured in the accident. Many people mistakenly assume that nurses have first aid training which would assist the injured person. This is not always the case.
However, all registered nurses should be aware that the NMC Code places a professional duty on a nurse to provide appropriate assistance, within their sphere of knowledge and competence, in such circumstances. Wherever possible, a nurse should arrange for emergency care to be accessed and provided promptly and should always take account of their own safety, the safety of others and the availability of other options for providing care. This professional duty may vary in practice, depending on the circumstances and the expertise of the nurse concerned, from simply providing some psychological comfort to the injured person, through to offering more hands on care. This is illustrated in the following examples:
- If a nurse has an understanding of the impact of moving a person with spinal injuries, then they may be expected to volunteer that knowledge at the scene of the accident.
- If an RGN with no midwifery training or knowledge came across a woman in labour their professional duty of care may be limited to reassuring the woman, making her comfortable and then calling an ambulance, acting within their competence.