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Ethics in extraordinary times: research into practitioner experiences during the pandemic

The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care today publishes Ethics in extraordinary times: practitioner experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. This report explores the ethical experiences of practitioners working in health and social care professions and was commissioned by the Authority from Professor Deborah Bowman.

The research describes a focused review of the literature that was published during the pandemic about practitioners’ ethical experiences and what was shared during individual interviews and focus groups with practitioners from a range of professions. The report describes how the pandemic shaped and altered the ethical experiences of practitioners and develops new insights, including:

i) What duties of care to self and others might mean in professions and settings including, but also beyond intensive care

ii) How underexplored ethical approaches such as the ethics of care, relational ethics, virtue ethics and narrative ethics resonate with practitioners and relate to their experiences during the pandemic

iii) How practitioners perceive and engage with ethical guidance, including from professional regulators, and the significance of judgement

iv) The extent of moral injury and ensuing moral distress which will endure long after the pandemic.

Professor Bowman found considerable congruence between how regulators and practitioners describe the ethical experiences of professionals during the pandemic. However, the interview and focus group data suggest that many practitioners do not perceive regulators, especially in their own profession, to be a source of advice and support in terms of ethical practice with many drawing more on the support and advice of colleagues, local leadership and professional bodies. Practitioner understanding of the role of ethical guidance from regulators, the regulatory response to the pandemic and the statutory remit within which regulators work varied widely with implications for trust and relational regulation.

The report concludes that it is time to think about and approach ethics in a different way that is grounded in the experience of practitioners and focuses on building ethical confidence and capability. Specifically, by focusing on moral distress, the ethics of care, the role of judgement and practical ways of providing ethical support, learning from the pandemic will be grounded in what has been experienced.

Professor Bowman’s report advances our understanding of registrants’ ethical experiences during the pandemic, and the role of regulators and others in supporting and guiding registrants through extraordinary and challenging times.

Webinar – Professor Deborah Bowman in conversation on Ethics in Extraordinary Times

 On 8 July (5.00-6.30pm) we are hosting a Teams webinar on Ethics in Extraordinary Times.  Professor Bowman will discuss the issues arising from the report with Professor Ann Gallagher (University of Exeter), Dr Mohammad Razai (St George’s University of London) and Professor Richard Huxtable (University of Bristol).  There will then be time for questions and discussion.  If you would like to attend, please email Sarah Lisgo at the Professional Standards Authority: