Home' Australian Pharmacist : Australian Pharmacist December 2013 Contents 36 Australian Pharmacist December 2013 I ©Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Ltd.
Support in a medical
By Dr Laetitia Hattingh
Pharmacists are health professionals who assist consumers and their carers to
optimise health outcomes from medicines and are trusted health professionals
with a unique set of knowledge and expertise.
One of a pharmacist's core functions
is to assist patients to manage minor,
self-limiting conditions. Members of
the public also often visit community
pharmacies to get support in managing
their wounds. Pharmacy staff are
increasingly the first point of health care
intervention for people requiring first
aid.1 It is therefore a logical step that
pharmacists who have direct contact with
patients should be trained in basic first-aid.
Although a valid first aid certificate is not a
requirement for ongoing registration it is a
requirement for initial general registration.2
As health professionals pharmacists may
be approached to provide support to
consumers in a medical emergency and
the public may expect pharmacists to be
able to render first aid assistance.3 However,
current Australian legislative provisions do
not specifically address the pharmacist's
role in a medical emergency. The various
professional practice standards also do not
cover this role and there is hence no clear
guidance about the role of a pharmacist in
providing support in a medical emergency.
Research conducted in Queensland showed
variable responses from pharmacists
to the managing hypothetical medical
emergency situations in a pharmacy.4
This study involved a survey of 45
community pharmacists. The situations
presented involved the administration of
salbutamol to a non-compliant asthmatic
with an asthma attack and an adrenaline
auto-injector (Epi-Pen) to a 4-year-old child
with anaphylaxis. The following comment
from one of the respondents summarised
the dilemma raised by several of the
'Many questions/concerns raised here.
Would I be covered by my insurance? Am I
legally allowed to administer? Could I
instruct instead an assistant to administer
(then because they are not the pharmacist,
they are not liable?). Would I bypass legal
responsibility to save a life potentially? Yes.'
This clearly highlights the uncertainty some
pharmacists have in terms of what to do in
a medical emergency. The expected role
of a pharmacist in a medical emergency
seems to be a grey area and this uncertainty
may influence pharmacists' actions in
emergency situations. This could have
detrimental consequences for both
the person needing the aid as well as
Good Samaritan law for health
An understanding of the doctrine of the
Good Samaritan provides some guidance
in terms of what is expected of health
professionals and the legal protection in
rendering aid. A Good Samaritan (rescuer)
is a person acting without expectation
of payment who comes to the aid of a
person and usually includes a healthcare
professional.5 Following the Review of
the Law of Negligence in 2002 (The Ipp
Review), various Australian jurisdictions
enacted Good Samaritan laws that protect
health care professionals who provide
care at the scene of an accident or another
emergency situation.* The doctrine of the
Good Samaritan encourages people, and
particularly healthcare professionals, to
assist strangers in need without fearing
legal repercussions in case of a treatment
Dr Laetitia Hattingh is a Senior Lecturer at
the School of Pharmacy, Curtin University of
Technology in Perth, Western Australia and a co-
author of Australian Pharmacy Law & Practice.
error. Therefore, the doctrine supports the
principle that a Good Samaritan should not
be liable for assisting in an emergency if
exercising all reasonable care and skill and the
legislation provides a degree of protection for
those who render aid to the injured.
This aid must be in good faith and without
expectation of payment. There are two tests
for good faith: the first is subjective, i.e. is
based on what an individual knew or thought.
The second is objective and requires a
consideration of whether the person acted to
a standard expected of a reasonable person in
the circumstances.6 To date there has been no
known Australian case law where a health care
professional has been held liable for providing
emergency care in good faith to a stranger.7
On the other hand, there are examples of
medical practitioners being found liable
for damages and/or guilty of professional
misconduct for failing to respond to requests
for assistance.8 These cases involved requests
in the professional context where the medical
service or medical practitioner was the
only professional reasonably available to
Pharmacists must be willing to help others
who are injured or in distress. Although
pharmacists do not have the level of skills
of a medical practitioner or a paramedic to
provide emergency support pharmacists are
trained health professionals. There is therefore
an expectation that pharmacists will provide
first aid or medical care to a person in need.
* ACT: Civil Law (wrongs) Act 2002, NSW: Civil Liability
Act 2000, NT: Personal Injuries (Liabilities and Damages)
QLD: Civil Liability Act 2003, QLD: Law Reform Act 1995,
SA: Civil Liability Act 1936, TAS: Civil Liability Act 2002, VIC:
Wrongs Act 1958, WA: Civil Liability Act 2002.
1. The Pharmacy Guild of Australia. Community Pharmacy
Roadmap Program Development Template: First Aid and Wound
Management. 2010. At: www.guild.org.au/services-programs/
2. Pharmacy Board of Australia. Frequently Asked Questions for
Pharmacy Interns -- Continuing Professional Development.2012.
3. Wingfield J, Badcott D. Pharmacy Ethics and Decision Making.
London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2007;203
4. McMillan S, Hattingh HL, MA K. An assessment of community
pharmacists' responses to hypothetical medical emergency
situations. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.
5. Gulam H, Devereux J. A brief primer on Good Samaritan
law for health care professionals. Australian Health Review.
6. Eburn M. Protecting volunteers? The Australian Journal of
Emergency Management. 2003;18(4):7--11.
7. P M. Health law: commentary and materials (3rd ed). Sydney:
Federation Press; 2000.
8. Brandon W, Ruddenklau A, Moodie A, Gillies S. Responding to in-
flight requests for medical assistance. N Z Med J. 2002;115:U244.
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