Acting the good Samaritan
Authors: Sally Old, Oliver Lord
Publication date: 03 Apr 2017
Sally Old and Oliver Lord explain what doctors need to know about being a good Samaritan1.
There is no legal obligation in the UK for a doctor to volunteer as a “good Samaritan” during an emergency, but they do have an ethical obligation to provide assistance, even if they are off duty and wherever they are in the world.2.
In some countries, however, there is a legal obligation to provide assistance, and if a doctor fails to help then they could be prosecuted. France, for example, has a dedicated good Samaritan law which compels doctors to assist in an emergency.3.
Protected by law
The risk of doctors being sued after they have helped in an emergency is very low with only a handful of cases ever having been attempted. Likewise, the Social Action, Responsibility, and Heroism Act 2015 is intended to protect those acting in an emergency in England and Wales from legal action.4.
Produce clinical records
If doctors do find themselves in a situation where a good Samaritan is needed, they should make a clinical record of any help given, including the patient’s name, if known, the treatment provided, and their own contact details. Handover relevant information to those who will provide ongoing patient care.5.
Recognise your limitations
Doctors may be asked to act as a good Samaritan at a time when they are unwell or tired. In this instance, it is important to assess whether they are competent to help. If another doctor or healthcare professional is at the scene it may be more appropriate for the other person to help instead.
We have read and understood BMJ’s policy on declaration of interests and declare the following: SO: My husband, Darren Griffin, is a researcher in genetics and IVF and submits articles/letters to the BMJ with a view to publication. OL: I am employed solely by the Medical Defence Union.
Sally Old medicolegal adviser
Oliver Lord medicolegal adviser Medical Defence Union