The law that came in from the cold

02 December 2023
Volume 28 · Issue 12


As winter draws on it is timely to look at ways in which nurses in the community may be faced with problems, expected and unexpected, when their patients are particularly affected by cold conditions and at the precautions which need to be taken to avoid or lessen adverse effects on their health. As in the case of heat-related risks to health, examined in an earlier article, so too in the case of cold those most at risk are elderly patients and those who are vulnerable due to a pre-existing condition affecting health even in a more clement climate. Cold weather attracts extra legal responsibilities which are examined in this article.

Patient health problems may be caused directly or indirectly by the cold, although it is usually in the latter case that problems present. The most obvious case of a direct cause is seasonal affective disorder. The presentation of this disorder is normally mental rather than physical, though it may be accompanied by psychosomatic symptoms. Seasonal affective disorder commonly presents as depression and clinicians should be careful not to mistake the one for the other. Depression may be triggered or exacerbated by the cold.

The remainder of this article looks at effects caused by the cold which are less direct but no less significant when it comes to legal responsibilities.

Nurses in the community have a responsibility not only to treat but also to anticipate and, if possible, to avoid. This is more easily said than done for the simple reason that those to whom they owe a legal duty of care are ‘in the community’.

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