Developing clinical ethics support for an Australian Health Service: A survey of clinician’s experiences and views

Giuliana Fuscaldo, Melissa Cadwell, Kristin Wallis, Lisa Fry, Margaret Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: International developments suggest that providing clinical ethics services to help clinicians negotiate ethical issues that arise in clinical practice is beneficial and reflects best practice in promoting high ethical standards and patient-centered care. The aim of this study was to explore the needs and experiences of clinical staff members to inform the development of future clinical ethics support. Methods: Health professionals at a large regional health service completed an online survey containing questions about the frequency of ethical and legal issues encountered in clinical practice, the type of situations that gave rise to the ethical and/or legal uncertainty or concern, how clinicians currently address these issues, and what support would be welcome. Results: The survey was completed by 369 staff members, including 61% with more than 10 years in the profession and 51% in nursing/midwifery. Two-thirds (66%) indicated they often considered ethical implications of their clinical decisions, and half (49%) often considered the legal implications. More than half (58%) were often/occasionally concerned about the ethically right thing to do. Patient requests for borderline treatment (47%), staff disagreements about patient care (48%), and patients declining recommended treatment (54%) were the most frequent reasons given for ethical or legal uncertainty. Sixty-nine percent of respondents indicated that the way their department addressed ethical issues could be improved and 85% agreed that there is a need for more discussion on ethical issues. The majority (82%) of respondents had encountered ethically challenging clinical situations where additional support would have helped. Common approaches to issues were discussion with colleagues/supervisor (91.1%), discussion at handover/group forums (50.8%), and consultation with guidelines/protocols (60.9%). Conclusions: A majority of clinical staff members surveyed have encountered ethically/legally challenging cases daily for which they have often sought additional advice. This study indicates that many clinical staff members would welcome some form of additional clinical ethics support including advice and education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-54
Number of pages11
JournalAJOB Empirical Bioethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical ethics
  • clinical ethics support services
  • hospital clinical ethics consultation
  • hospital ethics committee
  • survey

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