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New legal test for good Samaritan acts

Post date: 18/06/2015 | Time to read article: 1 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 14/11/2018

In April, the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act 2015 came into force in England and Wales. It sets out some additional factors that a court must consider when assessing a negligence claim or alleged breach of duty.

These factors essentially outline a new legal test that is especially pertinent in the case of a good Samaritan act. They are:

  • Social action – whether the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred when the person was acting for the benefit of society or any of its members.
  • Responsibility – whether the person, in carrying out the activity in the course of which the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred, demonstrated a predominantly responsible approach towards protecting the safety or other interests of others.
  • Heroism – whether the alleged negligence or breach of statutory duty occurred when the person was acting heroically by intervening in an emergency to assist an individual in danger.

MPS advice

A good Samaritan act is where medical assistance is given in a bona fide medical emergency, which a healthcare professional may happen upon in a personal rather than professional situation. While there is no legal duty to assist (in UK law), clinicians have an ethical and a professional duty to help.

As clinicians in such a situation, you should do the best you can in the circumstances with the resources available, working within the limits of your competence. MPS will assist with any problems arising from a good Samaritan act anywhere in the world.

When an emergency arises, it is vital to:

  • Carefully consider your own competence and expertise, particularly if you are retired and/or no longer registered with the GMC:
    • Consider whether anyone else is better placed to assist, such as a currently practising/registered doctor
    • If retired, you should make clear you are no longer in practice
    • For those who no longer hold a license to practise, you must make this known.
    • Take a full history and carry out a full examination in order to make an informed assessment
  • Suggest options for managing the situation (balance benefits and risks of treatment)
  • Work within the confines of your expertise and training, except in a critical emergency
  • Delegate and communicate appropriately.

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