Articles and Case Studies

Good Samaritan Acts – Responding to the App

15 Nov 2017

sara bird

by Dr Sara Bird

good samaritan app

One of our Members recently contacted us about “community first responder” apps. These apps notify a registered first responder if there is a nearby emergency, e.g. a notification may occur if you are within 500m of a 000 call.

The first responder can attend to provide assistance until the ambulance arrives. Our Member wanted to know if he was legally or professionally obliged to attend if notified about an emergency by the app.

Is a doctor obliged to offer Good Samaritan assistance?

Under common law, there is no legal duty on any individual, regardless of whether he or she is a doctor, to rescue where there is no prior relationship. However, there are some exceptions to the general presumption that there is no legal obligation to provide emergency aid as a Good Samaritan.

In the Northern Territory, Section 155 of the Criminal Code states:

"Any person who, being able to provide rescue, resuscitation, medical treatment, first aid or succour of any kind to a person urgently in need of it and whose life may be endangered if it is not provided, callously fails to do so is guilty of an offence and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.”

In 1996, the NSW case of Woods v Lowns found that a General Practitioner (GP) had breached his duty of care and was negligent for failing to attend and provide assistance to a 10-year-old boy who was suffering from status epilepticus – despite the fact that the boy was not a patient of the GP. However, this judgment has been criticised by a number of commentators for imposing a legal duty to rescue on doctors.

The conduct of doctors in Australia is regulated by the National Law. While the definitions of “unprofessional conduct” and “professional misconduct” in the National Law do not refer to emergency assistance, the definition of “unsatisfactory professional conduct” applicable to doctors in NSW includes:

Refusing or failing, without reasonable cause, to attend (within a reasonable time after being requested to do so) on a person for the purpose of rendering professional services in the capacity of a medical practitioner if the practitioner has reasonable cause to believe the person is in need of urgent attention by a medical practitioner, unless the practitioner has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that another medical practitioner attends instead within a reasonable time.

The Medical Board of Australia's Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia states:

Treating patients in emergencies requires doctors to consider a range of issues, in addition to the patient's best care. Good medical practice involves offering assistance in an emergency that takes account of your own safety, your skills, the availability of other options and the impact on any other patients under your care; and continuing to provide that assistance until your services are no longer required. 

Therefore, in certain circumstances, doctors may be subject to disciplinary action for failing to respond to requests for emergency assistance. However, in the case of Good Samaritan apps, an ambulance has already been called – so other options for emergency care have already been activated.

Protection for Good Samaritans

Every Australian state and territory has legislation which protects Good Samaritans who act in good faith, honestly, without recklessness and/or with reasonable care and skill.

In addition, your Professional Indemnity Insurance Policy with MDA National provides worldwide cover for claims that arise out of Good Samaritan acts.

Dr Sara Bird
Manager, Medico-legal & Advisory Services
MDA National

Clinical, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics, Independent Medical Assessor - IME
 

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