Document Type

Article

Abstract

Background In 2001 a report on the provision of clinical ethics support in UK healthcare institutions identified 20 clinical ethics committees. Since then there has been no systematic evaluation or documentation of their work at a national level. Recent national surveys of clinical ethics services in other countries have identified wide variation in practice and scope of activities.

Objective To describe the current provision of ethics support in the UK and its development since 2001.

Method A postal/electronic questionnaire survey administered to the chairs of all 82 clinical ethics services registered with the UK Clinical Ethics Network in July 2010.

Results Response rate was 62% with the majority of responding services situated in acute trusts. All services included a clinical ethics committee with one service also having a clinical ethicist. Lay members were present in 72% of responding committees. Individual case consultation has increased since 2001 with 29% of chairs spending more than 50% of their time on this. Access to and involvement in the process of case consultation is less for patients and families than for clinical staff. There is wide variation in committee processes and levels of institutional support. Over half of the responding committees undertook some form of evaluation.

Conclusion Clinical ethics services in the UK are increasing as is their involvement in case consultation. However, the significant variation in committee processes suggests that further qualitative research is needed to understand how these committees function and the role they play in their institution.

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