A DDU member questioned her role as an emergency first responder, and needed clarification on her responsibilities and priorities.

A DDU member called the advice line for help after learning she had been identified as an emergency first responder by the local ambulance service.

The role had been bestowed because the member owned two practices in the area that were equipped with automated external defibrillators (AEDs). However, this was done without her knowledge or consent, and she soon found herself being asked to attend emergencies outside her practice and getting requests for use of the AEDs from members of the public.

Unsure of how to balance her duties to her patients and the responsibilities of a role she hadn't asked for, she called the DDU for advice.

DDU advice

Duty to patients

If you can assist in an emergency outside your practice, and it wouldn't put your own patients at risk to do so, there is an argument that you have an ethical/professional obligation to do what you can to assist until paramedics arrive. The benefits of DDU membership include access to assistance and indemnity for genuine good Samaritan acts, which would include dental professionals assisting with a medical emergency that wasn't associated with dental treatment.

However, in this instance the adviser felt that there was a stronger argument that the member's first obligation was to her dental patients, to see them on time as far as possible and to give them her undivided attention while they were under her care.

Leaving a patient in the dental chair to attend an emergency outside the practice for an indefinite period would more than likely prejudice their treatment. And even if it doesn't, it wouldn't be very pleasant to be abandoned part way through treatment, with no certainty as to when the dentist will return. While the majority of patients would hopefully be understanding, it's likely that some would not be, and might complain if their treatment is interrupted or postponed.

The ambulance service or other volunteer first responders do not have the same commitments and obligations, and should attend medical emergencies outside the practice.

Other considerations

AEDs are expensive pieces of equipment and require training to use properly and safely. If the AED was given to a complete stranger, the dentist might end up being liable to criticism if that person inadvertently caused harm with it, either to themselves or someone else.

The adviser was also concerned about what would happen if a patient in the practice suffered a medical emergency while the dentist was away, and who would handle that emergency. It wouldn't be appropriate for the member to leave a patient under treatment in the sole charge of a dental nurse and expect them to care for the patient until she returned. And if the medical emergency in the practice was a cardiac arrest, the AED would not be available for use by the member's colleagues in her absence.


In light of their conversation, the adviser suggested that the member write to the ambulance service and ask to have her practice removed from the list of first responders for the reasons they had discussed.

This page was correct at publication on 19/09/2017. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.