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British Journal of Social Work

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The purpose of this paper is to elucidate the concept of moral distress in hospital social work. Moral distress evolves from an ethical dilemma, wherein an individual is unable to implement a course of action perceived to be morally right. Moral distress is an integrity compromising experience, resulting in conflict between one’s personal, professional and organisational values. To our knowledge, no research has been conducted exploring the manifestation of moral distress in hospital social work. Our intention is to describe the concept of moral distress and theorise how this ethical phenomenon transpires in the field of hospital social work. Moral distress likely has unique implications for social work practice, and the way in which hospital policies and institutional structures facilitate such experiences. We will critically examine how moral distress may emerge in social work, explicating the unique situations and occupational factors that are specific to hospital social workers. Naming and addressing moral distress in social work are imperative to develop ethically informed social work practice, policy and education. This can elicit ways in which to mitigate and respond to moral conflict, and create opportunities to promote organisational change and policy reform. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Oxford University Press in The British Association of Social Workers on February 27, 2017, available online:


Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Work

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Social Work Commons