Decision-making in an emergency department: A nursing accountability model


Introduction Nurses that work in an emergency department regularly care for acute patients in a fast-paced environment, being at risk of suffering high levels of burnout. This situation makes them especially vulnerable to be accountable for decisions they did not have time to consider or have been pressured into.

Research objective The objective of this study was to find which factors influence ethical, legal and professional accountability in nursing practice in an emergency department.

Research design Data were analysed, codified and triangulated using qualitative ethnographic content analysis.

Participants and research context This research is set in a large emergency department in the Midlands area of England. Data was collected from 186 nurses using participant observation, 34 semi-structured interviews with nurses and ethical analysis of 54 applicable clinical policies

Ethical considerations Ethical approval was granted by two research ethics committees and the National Health Service Health Research Authority.

Results The main result was the clinical nursing accountability cycle model, which showed accountability as a subjective concept that flows between the nurse and the healthcare institution. Moreover, the relations amongst the clinical nursing accountability factors are also analysed to understand which factors affect decision-making.

Discussion The retrospective understanding of the factors that regulate nursing accountability is essential to promote that both the nurse and the healthcare institution take responsibility not only for the direct consequences of their actions but also for the indirect consequences derived from previous decisions.

Conclusion The decision-making process and the accountability linked to it are affected by several factors that represent the holistic nature of both entities, which are organised and interconnected in a complex grid. This pragmatic interpretation of nursing accountability allows the nurse to comprehend how their decisions are affected, while the healthcare institution could act proactively to avoid any problems before they happen.


The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version. The Publisher's final version can be found by following the DOI link.


Accountability, Decision-making, Emergency nursing, Clinical ethics, Healthcare institution, Motivation, Nurse, Values, Work conditions


Rubio-Navarro, A., Garcia-Capilla D., Torralba-Madrid, M.J. and Rutty, J. (2019) Decision-making in an emergency department: A nursing accountability model. Nursing Ethics,


Research Institute

Institute of Health, Health Policy and Social Care