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Is there a doctor in the house? MDU survey reveals many medics act as Good Samaritans
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10th June 2015
AUK Staff
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 We found that doctors coming across an incident or hearing the call for a ‘doctor in the house’ are only too willing to help out in a variety of emergencies
 Dr Beverley Ward
Asthma attacks, fainting, heart attacks, broken bones and head injuries from traffic accidents – these are just some of the problems that have confronted doctors who have stepped in to help a member of the public while off-duty, according to a survey of Medical Defence Union (MDU) members.

Of 117 doctors who responded to the survey about Good Samaritan acts, the vast majority (88%) had experienced at least one incident where they had been called upon to help a person in distress, while two doctors had been involved in more than five incidents in the past five years.

Very few (31%) had ever been deterred from providing emergency help while off-duty and in many cases that was because someone better qualified was able to help. But almost 60% of respondents said they would feel reassured if there was extra legal protection for doctors acting as Good Samaritans. New legislation was recently introduced in England and Wales to protect people performing good deeds from legal action.

Dr Beverley Ward, MDU medico-legal adviser said:

"We found that doctors coming across an incident or hearing the call for a ‘doctor in the house’ are only too willing to help out in a variety of emergencies. Most incidents took place on aeroplanes and other forms of public transport, or on the street, but some of the more unusual settings included church, the theatre, or in one instance, the Icelandic countryside.

"The help doctors provided included diagnosing conditions such as heart attacks and hypoglycaemic fits, providing reassurance to a suicidal person, and in some cases resuscitating patients who had stopped breathing.

"While it's unusual, if not unheard of, for Good Samaritan acts to result in legal action, doctors may worry about the consequences of their actions. The recently introduced Social Action and Responsibility Act 2015, which came into force in England and Wales in April, may help reassure them."

The MDU advice to Good Samaritan doctors is: 
  • You have an ethical duty to provide what assistance you can in the circumstances if an emergency arises. 
  • Ensure you have adequate indemnity in place. The MDU provides indemnity for doctors acting as Good Samaritans worldwide. 
  • Ensure you get the patient's consent for any treatment you provide and maintain confidentiality. 
  • Keep detailed notes of any incidents and the medical care you provide, even in an emergency.
Results from the survey included: 
  • Fainting was the most common condition a doctor helped someone with (25%) followed by cardiac arrests (12%) and head injuries (9%). 
  • Where known, the most common eventual outcome for patients was full recovery at the scene or after admission to hospital. Sadly, on eight occasions the doctor later discovered that the patient had died. 
  • Public transport, including on aeroplanes, was the most common place for an incident to happen and this featured in 52 cases reported by members. The next most frequently mentioned setting was in the street (27 cases). 
  • In the majority of cases doctors received no recognition for the help they provided, although many pointed out they did not want or expect anything. Others received thank you cards, and in a few cases the doctor was rewarded with a gift ranging from a free meal to an airline upgrade.
 While it's unusual, if not unheard of, for Good Samaritan acts to result in legal action, doctors may worry about the consequences of their actions
 Dr Beverley Ward
The MDU surveyed 117 doctors in March 2015. 41 respondents were GP/GPSTs, 40 were consultants and 36 were other hospital doctors.

The Social Action and Responsibility Act 2015 states that when a court considers a negligence claim or breach of duty it must consider whether the person was acting 'for the benefit of society or any of its members' or whether a person 'demonstrated a predominantly responsible approach towards protecting the safety or interests of others' or the person was 'acting heroically by intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger.'


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