Questions over Good Samaritan rights and obligations following alleged police assault

Matt Woodley

23/01/2019 1:41:56 PM

The case of a Melbourne doctor allegedly assaulted by police while assisting a stricken man under their supervision has highlighted issues regarding the powers and responsibilities of medical Good Samaritans.

When is it okay for doctors to cross the thin blue line?
When is it okay for doctors to cross the thin blue line?

Dr Kim Proudlove claims she was thrown to the ground and punched by police officers after she attempted to provide first aid to a man who she said was barely conscious and bleeding heavily.
Dr Proudlove said she was left with multiple cuts, bruises and abrasions following the incident, as well as a fractured leg and ruptured anterior cruciate ligament.
After assessing the scene, the experienced rehabilitation specialist said she announced herself as a doctor able to provide aid, but was told to leave the area as the injuries were self-inflicted and an ambulance was on its way. Dr Proudlove refused and attempted to help, which is when the alleged assault occurred.
While unable to comment on the specifics of the case, medico-legal expert and executive manager of professional services at MDA National, Dr Sara Bird, told newsGP that outside of the Northern Territory, there is no obligation to provide emergency assistance where there is no prior relationship.
‘Under common law there is no legal duty on any individual, regardless of whether he or she is a doctor, to “rescue” another person or provide emergency assistance where there is no prior relationship,’ she said.
According to Dr Bird, from a professional perspective, any complaint about a doctor will be assessed in accordance with Good Medical Practice: A Code of Conduct for Doctors in Australia, which states:
Treating patients in emergencies requires doctors to consider a range of issues, in addition to the patient’s best care. Good medical practice involves offering assistance in an emergency that takes account of your own safety, your skills, the availability of other options and the impact on any other patients under your care; and continuing to provide that assistance until your services are no longer required.
Dr Bird added that the emergency treatment of patients requires doctors to consider a range of issues.
‘I think the main issue to consider is your own safety and that of others. If a safety issue is identified by the doctor, or another party, then you should not proceed until it is safe to do so,’ she said.
‘The presence of the police would reflect on the issue of safety, because ensuring the safety of the public is one of the key roles of the police.
‘Other issues would include the urgency of the need for medical assistance and the availability of other options for emergency assistance; for example, the attendance of an ambulance.
‘From a medico-legal perspective, any case will be assessed on the individual facts of the case.’
An internal police investigation into the alleged assault of Dr Proudlove is ongoing.

assault doctor emergency treatment Good Samaritan medico-legal police

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