Can the revised UK code direct practice?

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The Nursing and Midwifery Council, the United Kingdom regulator of nursing and midwifery has recently revised its professional code of practice. This article begins by arguing that a professional code must be capable of sustaining close reading and of action guidance. Using four exemplar clauses, it is argued that the new revised code does not meet this purpose. First, I show that in setting out requirements for consent and documentation, the meaning of the relevant clause has changed significantly during the editing process so that a literal reading of the final document bears little relation to established professional practice. Second, I argue that the clause concerning the nature of professional relationships has also been altered during the editing process so that it is inconsistent with other professional groups and established accounts of the professional nurse–patient relationship. Third, I argue that the clause concerning disclosure of confidential information, which survived revision and editing with its meaning intact, is nevertheless factually incorrect and inconsistent with UK law and authoritative guidance. Finally, fourth, I argue that use of the word ‘inappropriate’ is inappropriate as it amounts to meaningless circularity, discussed in relation to a clause on expressing personal beliefs. Taken together, these examples demonstrate that the Code is seriously flawed and does not fulfil its purpose. One way that simple prescriptive clauses in the Code can be usefully understood is through the provision of detailed guidance. I argue that the Nursing and Midwifery Council has changed its position on its view of the value of guidance and has significantly reduced the amount of written guidance and advice it provides. The article concludes by arguing that in order to meet its action directing function, further clarifying revision and the provision of detailed guidance is required.

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