Ethical Decision-Making in Intensive Care: Are Nurses Suitable Patient Advocates?
Intensive and Critical Care Nursing. 1997 Jun; 13(3): 167-169.
According to the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC) code of conduct (1992), nurses in Britain are expected to act as patient advocates. An advocate is someone who 'pleads for another' (Concise Oxford Dictionary 1982). However, it has been shown that advocacy is a complex issue and it is debatable as to whether or not it is a legitimate attribute of the role of the nurse (Gates 1995). Mallik (1997) also finds that advocacy can be a risky career option. Professional codes of conduct spell out duties, but do not give moral guidance. Phrases such as 'promote and safeguard the well-being of the patient' (UKCC 1992) are used, but although undoubtedly well-intentioned, this is platitudinous and these codes commonly shed little light on how to define an action that is to the patient's benefit or detriment. It is tempting to suggest that they are used as a drunken man uses a street lamp; more for support than illumination. Castledine (1981) identified a number of factors that would make a nurse an inappropriate advocate and these will be discussed within the context of intensive care units (ICUs).
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