The recent attack on Westminster Bridge in London sparked an immediate response from the emergency services who tried to save the lives of the many people who had been mowed down by a single perpetrator. The emergency teams should be commended for their work during such an extremely difficult situation. The emergency response was immediate and well-coordinated, and the perpetrator was supported until his subsequent death had been declared. While some media comments suggested there should have been no attempt by emergency personnel to save the perpetrator’s life, it should be noted that the Hippocratic oath states: ‘Above all, I must not play at God.’ This is because special obligations exist for the caring professions regarding the care and treatment of all fellow human beings. As I attend the Florence Nightingale Commemoration Service at Westminster Abbey on 17 May, I will be reminded of a fundamental tenet of nursing: the nurse-patient relationship is no matter what the patient’s characteristics may be. On many occasions, emergency practitioners will treat and care for individuals who may have violated the principles that society values. As carers, however, once we lose perspective on who we care for and who we should not care for, we may lose forever the fundamental ethos of caring. Felicity Stockwell drew attention to this human aspect of nursing in the 1970s, in her seminal work The Unpopular Patient. We must therefore follow our professional standards of practice as they are set out in the Nursing and Midwifery Council code and continue to provide unconditional care to all people, despite the sometimes uncomfortable space we occupy.
- Duty to care