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What are nursing ethics, and its basic ethical principles?

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Nursing code of ethics, and its ethical principles - an explainer

As a nurse, you may encounter situations that affect others, such as patients, their families, and your co-workers. Making the best decisions in such situations is a key element of professionalism in the healthcare field. To make sure nurses perform their duties and responsibilities at the highest standards, it's important that they adhere to a nursing code of ethics. 

In general, ethics is concerned with 'right and wrong,' though agreeing on the 'right' can be difficult. Understanding ethics is critical for providing skilled professional care. Nursing ethics is a practical discipline concerned with the moral aspects of nursing practice. It is a subset of healthcare ethics, or bioethics. Nursing ethics has three dimensions that interact as they prescribe ethical norms, describe ethical aspects of nursing, and generate ethical guidance. Philosophical nursing ethics helps nurses understand and debate key ethical concepts. Empirical nursing ethics employs empirical research to advance understanding of ethical and unethical nursing practises.  

The code of nursing ethics outlines the professional standards that nurses, midwives, and nursing assistants must adhere to practise in the UK. It is organised around four themes: people first, effective practice, safety first, and professionalism and trust second. Ethics is important in clinical and practice-based issues, and it affects all aspects of the professional nursing role. To apply nursing ethics in their role, nurses must first develop reasonable skills and understand the concepts and principles that assist ethical analysis. 

This article will help you understand nursing ethics and the key tips nurses can use to apply them in their professional roles. 

What are the ethical principles of nursing?

Ethical principles in nursing are standards and regulations that guide nurses on how to effectively carry out their duties and make sure their behaviour at work is consistent with professional nursing values. These nursing principles help to maintain quality standards and ethical requirements in the profession. They also demonstrate their professionalism, which is required to keep their registered nurse status. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is the organisation that sets out the standards for nurses and midwives. 

Core ethical nursing principles

Familiarising themselves with the core ethical principles of nursing will help nurses and other healthcare professionals make better decisions and effectively handle any ethical dilemmas in care facilities. There are four basic ethical principles in nursing, but depending on the care setting and employer, additional principles may be included. Here are the four standard nursing ethical principles: 

1. Non-maleficence:

Non-maleficence means "do no harm",  and this nursing principle protects patients by requiring nurses to always avoid or minimise the risk of causing harm. This principle of nursing also applies to other healthcare professionals, such as physicians or physiotherapists. Using this principle, young nurses can always request intervention or help from experienced nurses. This is especially important if you determine that a patient may pose a risk to themselves. 

2. Beneficence:

Beneficence means being good, taking action, and choosing treatments that benefit others. Kindness, charity, compassion, empathy, and courtesy towards patients and their families in all circumstances are key characteristics of nurses and other healthcare professionals who apply this nursing principle in their work. For instance, a nurse may decide to hold hands and support a patient while they are in pain. 

3. Autonomy: 

Autonomy is the belief that each patient under the care of a nurse has control over their own fate. Once a nurse begins to apply this principle, she will be able to effectively recognise a person's willingness to make sound decisions for themselves. The best way to apply this principle is to inform patients about their condition, the treatment they are receiving, and any complications or side effects of that treatment. When a patient makes a decision based on the information provided, even if you disagree with it as a nurse, respect it. 

4. Justice: 

The fourth and final ethical principle in nursing is justice, which ensures that whatever decision you make as a nurse is fair. To put this into practise, nurses should treat all patients as equals, regardless of their condition, race, or other factors. This ethical nursing principle ensures that care settings are free of discrimination and unethical practises. 

7 tips for nurses to apply the ethical principles of nursing 

Here are seven tips as to how nurses and healthcare workers can apply the ethical principles of nursing in their daily work environments: 

1. Prioritise people:

In any given circumstance, nurses should prioritise the interests of patients, their families, and colleagues. It is your responsibility as a nurse to care for the patient's health and well-being while also preserving their dignity, recognising their needs, and treating them equally. 

To act in the best interest of a patient by providing all the information about their condition as well as respecting their privacy and decisions about their health. Whenever you see a patient in distress, approach them compassionately and support them through their tough times. 

2. Communicate clearly: 

Communication is the key aspect of patient care, so always communicate with patients clearly. Help them articulate themselves and understand the diagnosis and treatment plans. Thus, it is always advisable for nurses to use verbal and non-verbal forms of communication so that they remain sensitive and compassionate towards patients and their families. 

3. Recognise the importance of teamwork: 

To provide high-quality treatment to patients, it is best that nurses work as a team. This will not only improve the patient outcome but also help the healthcare facility grow. To put this aspect into practise, nurses should always respect the experience and skills of colleagues and provide regular updates to one another if patients are being shared. Sharing reports via written and oral statements helps to avoid any unnecessary confusion and risks, which benefits the patients. 

4. Maintaining clear and accurate records:

Complying with workplace documentation standards is a significant aspect of ethical principles. By maintaining a clear and accurate record, physicians and other nursing professionals will be able to understand patients conditions precisely. 

5. Work within the limits of your competence:

To follow the principle of non-maleficence, always work within your competence. Doing the task for which you are trained will ensure nurses' and patients' safety. 

6. Maintain your professional status:

If you are a registered nurse, the NMC requires you to keep your knowledge up to date and undergo regular training in order for nurses to maintain their professional status. Nurses can improve their performance by constantly expanding their knowledge and skills through on-the-job and off-the-job training. 

7. Be a fair and compassionate leader: 

When applying the ethical principles of nursing, it is helpful to focus not only on the patient but also colleagues. As team leaders, experienced nurses should take the initiative to train less experienced nurses, guide them through the profession, and make sure they too follow the code of ethics at all times. 

These are some guidelines that nursing organisations can use to put nursing ethics into practise. 

Nurses Group is a leading nursing staffing agency in the UK, with offices all over the country. We ensure that our staff is properly trained to follow the ethical principles of nursing, ensuring the best outcome for patients and the healthcare facilities in which they work. 

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