Covid-19, ethical nursing management and codes of conduct: an analysis

Roger Newham, Alistair Hewison

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The conduct of nurse managers, and health service managers more widely, has been subject to scrutiny and critique because of high-profile organisational failures in healthcare. This raises concerns about the practice of nursing management and the use of codes of professional and managerial conduct. Some responses to such failures seem to assume that codes of conduct will ensure or at least increase the likelihood that ethical management will be practised. Codes of conduct are general principles and rules of normative standards, including ethical standards, and guides for action of agents in particular roles. Nurse managers seem to stride two roles. Contra some accounts of the roles of a professional (nurse) and that of a manager, it is claimed that there is no intrinsic incompatibility of the roles though there is always the possibility that it could become so and likewise for codes of conduct. Codes of conduct can be used to support nurse managers in making practical decisions via an ‘outside in’ approach with an emphasis on the use of principles and an ‘inside out’ approach with an emphasis on the agent’s character. It is claimed that both approaches are necessary, especially as guides to ethical action. However, neither is sufficient for action because judgement and choice will always be required (principles always underdetermine action) as will a conducive environment that positively influences good judgement by being supportive of the basic principles and values of healthcare institutions. The response to the Covid-19 pandemic has created a unique set of circumstances in which the practical judgement, including ethical judgement, of nurse managers at all levels is being tested. However, the pandemic could be a turning point because staff and institutions (temporarily) freed from managerialism have demonstrated excellent practice supportive of ethical and other practical decision making. Organisations need to learn from this post pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-90
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date21 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • Codes of conduct
  • codes of ethics
  • ethical management
  • healthcare management
  • hybrid nurse managers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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