psychiatryThe Royal College of Psychiatrists has published a new Code of Ethics which defines and characterises what it is to be a good psychiatrist.

The Code, which draws on ethical standards for doctors set by the General Medical Council, has 12 principles:

1. Psychiatrists shall respect the essential humanity and dignity of every patient

2. Psychiatrists shall not exploit patients’ vulnerability

3. Psychiatrists shall provide the best attainable psychiatric care for their patients

4. Psychiatrists shall maintain the confidentiality of patients and their families

5. Psychiatrists shall seek valid consent from their patients before undertaking any procedure or treatment

6. Psychiatrists shall ensure patients and their carers can make the best available choice about treatment

7. Psychiatrists shall not misuse their professional knowledge and skills, whether for personal gain or to cause harm to others

8. Psychiatrists shall comply with ethical principles embodied in national and international guidelines governing research

9. Psychiatrists shall continue to develop, maintain and share their professional knowledge and skills with medical colleagues, trainees and students, as well as with other relevant health professionals and patients and their families

10. Psychiatrists have a duty to attend to the mental health and well-being of their colleagues, including trainees and students

11. Psychiatrists shall maintain the integrity of the medical profession

12. Psychiatrists shall work to improve mental health services and promote community awareness of mental illness and its treatment and prevention, and reduce the effects of stigma and discrimination. 

In drawing up the Code, the College consulted other documents that have influenced medical ethics and clinical practice, including the World Psychiatric Association’s and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law’s ethical guidance, and similar codes for sister disciplines such as psychology.

Professor Chris Freeman, chair of the Code of Ethics Working Group, said: “The intention of this Code is that it should help to guide and shape such judgements for the good of patients, their families and carers, and for the profession itself. Although written for psychiatrists, it could be used as a template for ethical guidance for others working with mental health service users.”