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Professional practice

Ethical Thinking

Henny Pearmain, COT Professional Affairs Officer—Enquiries Service, explores some common questions from members regarding ethical conduct. 

‘She offers the service users private aromatherapy sessions’

 ‘He’s in desperate need of financial help—can we raise money to support him?’

 ‘He hurt himself when the bath board that I fitted broke. Now he is threatening to sue me—am I liable?’

 ‘When I refer to the local authority, I know there will be a long wait until the person is seen. Where does my duty of care stop?’

 At the Enquiries Service we hear questions like those above almost every day. My usual response is to ask some questions back. More often than not, the underlying answer is to be found within our Code of ethics and professional conduct.

Let’s take the first question – in this situation a therapy assistant in an NHS unit was talking to patients about her private work as an aromatherapist, not realising she was possibly creating a conflict of interest. She was finding customers from amongst her NHS service users.

When you are employed by a service like the NHS, or a local authority, or even a private company, but you also have your own business, you cannot gain personally, in your own business, through your work for your employer; at least, not without a formal agreement. Neither can you be in a situation where any personal gain may potentially influence the activity you do or care that you provide to service users.

In the example, the assistant had not realised that was she was doing anything wrong. Her intentions were good in offering a service to people she believed she could help. Inevitably though, she would have gained personally through the ‘referrals’ she had gained in her work for the NHS.

The answer was to ask her to stop talking about her private business whilst at her employed work. She needed to promote her aromatherapy service on an equal basis as any other private service provider, with local adverts etc.

In schools, occupational therapists are sometimes asked to provide private input for a child outside of school hours. If an OT wants to do this, it has be done ‘above board’, with their employer’s agreement. It must take place out of work hours, usually away from school facilities, and not be in competition or in conflict with the aims and purposes of any care that is provided within school. The additional service should be organised in an open and transparent way, so that it could not be construed as preferential treatment, neither can the occupational therapist advertise this additional service via the school. She can only respond to a request if made.

Have you been in or seen situations like this? Have a look at Section 4.6 of the Code of ethics and professional conduct. It discusses personal profit or gain and is helpful in these kinds of situations.

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