Ethics of rationing of nursing care

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Rationing of various needed services, for example, nursing care, is inevitable due to unlimited needs and limited resources. Rationing of nursing care is considered an ethical issue since it requires judgment about potential conflicts between personal and professional values.


The present research sought to explore aspects of rationing nursing care in Iran.

Research design:

This study applied qualitative content analysis, a method to explore people’s perceptions of everyday life phenomena and interpret the subjective content of text data. Data collection was performed through in-depth, unstructured, face-to-face interviews with open-ended questions.

Participants and research context:

The study population included Iranian nurses of all nursing positions, from clinical nurses to nurse managers. Purposive sampling was employed to select 15 female and 3 male nurses (11 clinical nurses, 3 supervisors, 1 matron, 1 nurse, and 2 members of the Nursing Council) working in hospitals of three cities in Iran.

Ethical considerations:

The study protocol was approved by Tehran University of Medical Sciences (91D1302870). Written informed consent was also obtained from all participants.


According to the participants, rationing of nursing care consisted of two categories, that is, causes of rationing and consequences of rationing. The first category comprised three subcategories, namely, patient needs and demands, routinism, and VIP patients. The three subcategories forming the second category were missed nursing care, patient dissatisfaction, and nurses’ feeling of guilt.


Levels at which healthcare practices are rationed and clarity of the rationing are important structural considerations in the development of an equal, appropriate, and ethical healthcare system. Moreover, the procedure of rationing is critical as it not only influences people’s lives but also reflects the values that dominate in the society. Therefore, in order to minimize the negative consequences of rationing of nursing care, further studies on the ethical dimensions of this phenomenon are warranted.

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