The Code presents the professional standards that nurses, midwives and nursing associates must uphold in order to be registered to practise in the UK.
It is structured around four themes – prioritise people, practise effectively, preserve safety and promote professionalism and trust.
Developed in collaboration with many who care about good nursing and midwifery, the Code can be used by nurses, midwives and nursing associates as a way of reinforcing their professionalism. Failure to comply with the Code may bring their fitness to practise into question.
Conscientious objection by nurses, midwives and nursing associates
Nurses, midwives and nursing associates must at all times keep to the principles contained within the Code.
The Code states that nurses, midwives and nursing associates who have a conscientious objection must tell colleagues, their manager and the person receiving care that they have a conscientious objection to a particular procedure. They must arrange for a suitably qualified colleague to take over responsibility for that person’s care.
There is a statutory right of conscientious objection for nurses, midwives and nursing associates in two areas:
Section 4(1) of the Abortion Act 1967 (Scotland, England and Wales)
This provision allows nurses, midwives and nursing associates to refuse to participate in the process of treatment which results in the termination of a pregnancy because they have a conscientious objection, except where it is necessary to save the life or prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman.
Section 38 of the Human and Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990)
This provision allows nurses, midwives and nursing associates the right to refuse to participate in technological procedures to achieve conception and pregnancy because they have a conscientious objection.
The Supreme Court decision in Greater Glasgow Health Board (Appellant) v Doogan and another (Respondents) (Scotland)  UKSC 68 provides additional information on the meaning of participation in any treatment.
Nurses and midwives must report female genital mutilation cases
Nurses and midwives must at all times keep to the principles contained within the Code. The Code states that nurses and midwives must take all reasonable steps to protect people who are vulnerable or at risk from harm, neglect or abuse. They must also have knowledge of and keep to the relevant laws and policies about protecting and caring for vulnerable people.
A new mandatory reporting duty to report female genital mutilation (FGM) cases to the police has come into effect on 31 October 2015. The new duty applies where a nurse or midwife, in the course of their work, either:
- is informed directly by the girl that an act of FGM has been carried out on her, or
- observes physical signs which appear to show an act of FGM has been carried out and has no reason to believe that the act was necessary for the girl’s physical or mental health or for purposes connected with labour or birth.
The new duty applies only to girls under 18 at the time of disclosure or visual identification of FGM. It applies only in England and Wales.
Nurses and midwives should familiarise themselves with the government’s guidance on the new duty. A range of additional resources to support health professionals comply with the new duty are available from the Government’s website. Failure to comply with the duty may result in an investigation of the nurse or midwife’s fitness to practise.
The new duty is limited to the specific circumstances described above. However in complying with the Code, nurses and midwives should continue to have regard to their wider safeguarding responsibilities, whether in relation to FGM or any other forms of abuse.