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Nursing responsibility and conditions of practice: are we justified in holding nurses responsible for their behaviour in situations of patient care?

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This paper analyses a situation where a patient's suffering provoked feelings of compassion in a student nurse, and distress at her patient's circumstances. The reported behaviour of qualified nurses within the situation suggests that they lacked compassion, had inadequate knowledge, and that they failed to understand their patient's plight. An account of the situation is followed by an exploration of the nature of moral agency, and understanding in nursing. Nurses' capacity for moral imagination is shown to be of crucial importance to the care that patients receive. The extent of nurses' responsibility for their behaviour is considered, and in particular, the extent of nurses' responsibility during times when they experience strain. Argument leads to the conclusion that we are justified in holding nurses responsible for their behaviour in situations of patient care, although we must not judge a nurse's behaviour too hastily. Attention is drawn to the need for a moral climate to sustain those nurses who struggle to give good patient care, despite the strain that is ever present within today's world of health care.

Keywords: Compassion; character; moral imagination; understanding

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Senior Lecturer in Nursing, The Wolfson Institute of Health Science, Thames Valley University, Royal Berkshire Hospital, London Road, Reading, Berkshire RG1 5AN, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2001


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