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How to answer ethical scenarios within NHS interviews – The ID Medical Guide

How to answer ethical scenarios within NHS interviews – The ID Medical Guide

Oct 14, 2020.
You’ll often find a medical ethical scenario asked at the end of your NHS interview. For some, this leaves feelings of stress and anxiety as there is no right or wrong answer. But ID Medical are here to provide you with a complete guide on how to successfully answer NHS ethical scenarios, helping you get that one step closer to your new NHS opportunity.

What is a medical ethical scenario?

Asking a candidate an ethical scenario is a great interview tool for NHS trusts. It provides them with an opportunity to see that you have the right attitude and values when it comes to working within UK healthcare.

An ethical scenario will allow an NHS trust to see:

  • Your understanding of ethics within the NHS
  • Your ability to view clinical scenarios from multiple perspectives
  • Your communication skills
  • Your ability to be decisive under pressure
  • Your ability to answer follow-up questions

How to successfully answer an ethical scenario:

When an ethical scenario is presented to you, it’s important to remember that there is no ‘right’ answer! But, when it comes to medical ethics, you just have to ensure you cover all of the basic principles and then in theory, you’ll be able to answer any question that’s thrown at you!

Step 1: Stay Calm

The first step in approaching your answer is not to say it too early or rush your thinking! If you were to face this situation in a genuine clinical scenario at work, then you would take a few minutes to think, confer with colleagues and assess all the options before you come to a decision.

The interview panel aren’t necessary interested in the right answer but rather your thought process towards the situation.

Step 2: Assess your Options & Apply the Four Pillars of Ethics

After you’ve got your emotions together, the next step is to consider all the options available to you whilst being mindful of the following:

  • You stick to the four pillars of ethics
  • Ensure your actions are lawful
  • Uphold your duty of confidentiality
  • Confirm the patient’s competence and capacity.
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What are the four pillars of ethics?

Medical ethics refers to a series principles set to ensure that every NHS patient receives the same standard of healthcare is given to all.

The four pillars of medical ethics:

  • Autonomy – Respecting a patient’s choice
  • Beneficence – Doing what’s in the best interests of your patient
  • Non-maleficence – Do no harm
  • Justice – Do what’s best for society as a whole

For more detail on each individual pillar of ethics, click here!

Beside the four pillars of medical ethics, there are some other factors you should consider when dealing with an ethical scenario:

Ensuring your actions are lawful!

Medical professionals have a duty to comply with the applicable ethical and legal regulations in their daily practice. Ignorance of the law and its implications can be detrimental to the care-giver regardless of whether the patient was cared for in good faith for the alleviation of their suffering. All actions that are done in good faith may not stand legal testing.

Example ethical scenarios that cover the law include: euthanasia, abortion and organ donation.

The Duty of Confidentiality!

Confidentiality is essential to the doctor-patient relationship. Without it, patients could be reluctant to seek medical help or give the correct and sufficient information for the doctor to then provide the best medical treatment.

Although there is a common law and various statutes such as The Human Rights Act 1998 to uphold confidentiality within a medical setting, there are various circumstances to override the duty if it protects the best interest of the patient or the general public. For example, if you have information to suggest that a patient is at risk of harm or the patient is at risk of harming someone else.

In those specific instances, you’ll need to report your concerns to your manager, Consultant or Lead Consultant and get their advice.

Competence and Capacity

When it comes to medical decisions, consent to medication or permission for surgical procedure can only come from those who have the capacity to make the decision. Often there are factors such as a person’s mental or physical illness, intoxication, severe stress or psychological trauma than can alter a patient’s capacity to make a decision.

If a patient does not have the capacity to make a medical decision, then healthcare professionals need to search for an advanced directive or their power of attorney (often their spouse, relative or friend)to make the decision.


As we already stressed, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to answering an ethical scenario within your NHS interview.  The most important thing to remember is that you should never start off with a strong view point!

You should emphasise that this is a complicated issue at hand and you’ll need to consider all viewpoints and possible outcomes for each, to come to an informed and appropriate decision that is in the best interest of the patient.

Remember to always refer to the four pillars of ethics and your desire to always follow a patient-centred care approach.

Click here to access 10 ethical scenarios to practice prior to your NHS interviews!

Best of luck with your NHS interview!

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