The UKCC code of conduct

A critical guide

Edited by Irene Heywood Jones Nursing Times Books 251 pages£12.95

This is not an easy read, but neither is it simple, I should imagine, to unravel the complex issues inherent in a professional code of conduct.

With this in mind it is inevitable that this book is limited in some areas, particularly the extent of ethical debate in relation to the 16 clauses.

But there is very useful practical information for nurses, particularly Ray Field's chapter on a knowledgeable doer - and how to recognise when you are one - and Malcolm Khan and Michelle Robson's description of the legal position regarding conscientious objection.

Martin Vousden's chapter in the appendix on what he views as a realistic alternative to the 16 clauses is probably the most thought-provoking, made even more so by his challenging and almost pedantic style.

One of the strengths of the book is that it is positive rather than punitive, providing nurses with examples of how they can work effectively within the code. The use of case studies provided by some of the authors is particularly helpful, as is the list of additional recommended reading at the end of each chapter.

The writing styles of the many authors are varied and it is not always easy to pre-determine the direction of each chapter.

Some chapters clearly identified the outcomes from the start and included points for reflection, while others read more as an academic-style essay. As a result it is much more of a book to dip into rather than read from cover to cover.

The fact that the book has been published ahead of the completion of the formal review of the statutory bodies could be seen either as a positive or a negative. On the positive side, it will provide useful documentation of where we are now; on the negative side, some parts are likely to become quickly out of date.

So what is missing? For me it is cross-fertilisation. As the book has been written in compartments there is no discussion regarding the inter- relationship between the clauses. This is particularly apparent in clause three (maintaining and improving your professional knowledge and competence) and clause 10 (protecting confidential information).

The information given in both chapters is correct insofar as they go, but what is lacking is how one can have an impact on the other. For example, the relationship needs to be made clear between maintaining patient or client confidentiality, post-registration education and practice requirements, and personal development, but because of the book's structure this is not possible.

Also missing from the book is the 'what if' question. For example, what if clause two (acts and omissions) conflicts with clause nine (maintaining confidentiality). The issues raised by such conflicts frequently form the basis of the real ethical dilemmas facing nurses in practice today.

Sue Howard

Education adviser, Royal College of Nursing.