Professional Ethics and Code of Conduct for Nurses

Alison Major
November 8, 2012 — 1,285 views  
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International Council of Nurses Code of Ethics (2005)

According to the ICN, the fundamental responsibility of the nurse is fourfold:

  1. promote health
  2. prevent illness
  3. restore health
  4. alleviate suffering.

The ICN further states that the need for nursing is universal. Inherent in nursing is respect for life, dignity and the rights of humanity. It's unrestricted by considerations of nationality, race, colour, age, gender, politics or social status. The code has five principal elements that outline the standards of ethical conduct.

Nurses and people

  • The nurse's primary responsibility is to people who require nursing care.
  • The nurse, in providing care, respects the beliefs, values and customs of the individual.
  • The nurse holds in confidence personal information and uses judgement in sharing this information.

Nurses and practice

  • The nurse carries personal responsibility for nursing practice and maintaining competence by continual learning.
  • The nurse maintains the highest standards of nursing possible within the reality of a specific situation.
  • The nurse uses good judgement in relation to individual competence when accepting and delegating responsibilities.
  • The nurse, when acting in a professional capacity, should at all times maintain standards of personal conduct that would reflect credit upon the profession.

Nurses and society

  • The nurse shares with other citizens the responsibility for initiating and supporting actions to meet the health and social needs of the public.

Nurses and colleagues

  • The nurse sustains a co-operative relationship with colleagues in nursing and other fields.
  • The nurse takes appropriate actions to safeguard the patient when their care is endangered by a colleague or another person.


Nurses and the profession

  • The nurse plays the major role in determining and implementing desirable standards of nursing practice and nursing education.
  • The nurse is active in developing a core of professional knowledge.
  • The nurse, acting through the professional organisation, participates in establishing and maintaining equitable social and economic working conditions in nursing.

Code of ethics

A code of ethics is a group of fundamental beliefs about what's morally right or wrong, along with reasons for maintaining those beliefs. Both of these codes contain fundamental statements which represent the beliefs and values of the nursing profession, and they assist in judging the standard of nursing given at any one time.


The need for confidentiality also forms part of the NMC Code. Patients and their family expect all health-care professionals to maintain confidentiality and share information with only relevant personnel.

The move to computerise patient records has its own problems. It may increase the risk of more people being able to access them. Therefore, it is essential that staff understand the importance of not sharing computer log in codes, and to remember to log out when leaving a computer screen.

The Caldicott Guardian

The Caldicott Guardian is a senior member of the NHS Trust (usually a clinician) who is responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of all identifiable health-care records in that setting. All groups delivering health care were required to appoint a Caldicott Guardian to ensure the protection of patient records and who may view them.

For your eyes only

Patient records with identifiable health information must be secured so that they aren't accessible to those who don't have a need for them. Identifiable health information may include the patient's name, national health number, hospital number, birth date, admission and discharge dates, and health history.

Alison Major

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