A step-by-step guide to DNACPR from the Resuscitation Council UK
Intended for healthcare professionals
Feature Previous     Next

A step-by-step guide to DNACPR from the Resuscitation Council UK

Catherine Baldock ReSPECT clinical lead, Resuscitation Council UK
Alex Ruck Keene Legal adviser for the ReSPECT process, Resuscitation Council UK

Resuscitation Council UK ReSPECT (Recommended summary plan for emergency care and treatment) clinical lead Catherine Baldock and legal adviser for the ReSPECT process Alex Ruck Keene KC (Hon) answer some of the questions most commonly asked about do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (DNACPR) recommendations.

Primary Health Care. 33, 3, 12-13. doi: 10.7748/phc.33.3.12.s6

Published: 30 May 2023

What is the purpose of a DNACPR recommendation?

A DNACPR recommendation provides immediate guidance to healthcare professionals on the best course of action, should the person experience cardiac arrest or die suddenly.

Terminology: how should we talk about DNACPR?

A decision to recommend that cardiopulmonary resuscitation is not attempted should be called a recommendation. To call them ‘DNACPR notices’ or ‘DNACPR orders’ implies a recommendation about future CPR is inflexible and will be followed regardless of the circumstances. A DNACPR recommendation is only that, whether contained in a stand-alone DNACPR form, or contained in a broader advance care plan or emergency care and treatment plan. A DNACPR recommendation serves the sole, important function of informing clinical decision-making at the time of the emergency.

Advance decisions to refuse treatment

An ADRT, as defined in the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in England and Wales, is a document that a person over 18 has drawn up when they had the capacity to do so, where they stipulate certain treatments they would not wish to receive, and the circumstances in which those decisions would apply. There is no specific format for an ADRT, but an ADRT in relation to refusal of life-sustaining treatment must be given in writing, witnessed, and make clear it applies even if life is at risk. A clinician who attempts CPR in full knowledge of the valid ADRT would be both criminally and civilly liable.

Are they legally binding?

No. A DNACPR recommendation is a guide for clinicians who are responding to the emergency and have to make a decision about whether to start CPR.

Should patients be involved in conversations about DNACPRs?

Yes. If a patient has capacity, the courts in England and Wales [Tracey case (R (Tracey) v Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 822] have made it clear the individual must be involved in a conversation about CPR – unless to do so is likely to cause them to suffer physical or psychological harm.

It is important to understand a decision on making a DNACPR recommendation is ultimately a clinical one, rather than one for the patient.

If the patient wishes to refuse CPR, they should be supported to make an advance decision to refuse treatment (ADRT).

Clinicians must be clear with the patient why they think CPR should not be recommended. It could be because they think it would be futile, as it would not work; or it could be because they think CPR would not be in the patient’s best interests.

In either case, the patient can ask for a second opinion, but the clinical team does not have to obtain a second opinion if the decision that CPR would be futile was reached on a robust, multidisciplinary basis.

If the patient goes into cardiac arrest and does not have a DNACPR recommendation, should CPR be started?

The default position is that steps should be taken to support life, so if the clinician considers that CPR is likely to be effective, they should start CPR. The clinician is under no obligation to start CPR if they do not think it is likely to be effective. If they believe CPR will be effective, but they have information to form a reasonable belief that CPR is not in the person’s best interests, then CPR does not need to be performed.

An example in which the clinician would have such a belief is where a family member explains that the person has made clear that they would not want CPR, and the clinician has no reason to doubt this.


Patients who have the capacity should be consulted about DNACPR decisions

Picture credit: iStock

If a patient has a DNACPR recommendation recorded on a form and goes into cardiac arrest – but the form is not immediately available – should CPR be started?

If a patient is known to have a DNACPR recommendation, it is appropriate not to perform CPR, providing the clinician is confident the recommendation is applicable and pertinent to the patient they are dealing with. The clinician at that point can have a reasonable belief that they are acting in the patient’s best interests.

If a patient has a DNACPR recommendation and starts choking, which leads to a cardiac arrest, should CPR be performed?

Yes, CPR should be performed because choking is a potentially reversible cause and performing CPR may dislodge/relieve the obstruction. A DNACPR recommendation should not affect the overall care a patient receives.

Should a recommendation about CPR be discussed as part of other emergency care and treatment?

Yes, CPR recommendations should be discussed with the patient as part of a conversation about their overall goals of care and treatment. This ensures the recommendation about CPR is put in context. Recommendations about DNACPR should not be made in isolation for two reasons:

  • » There would be too much focus on CPR at the expense of other goals.

  • » It risks giving the message that a person with a DNACPR recommendation would not want any other form of treatment escalation, which is entirely incorrect.

If a patient lacks capacity to participate in a conversation about CPR, who should be consulted?

If a person lacks capacity to participate, then any attorney for health and welfare or health and welfare deputy should be involved, as well as their family and those close to them, to understand what is important to the person. The only exception is where it is impractical to do so. However, there is a high threshold clinicians must satisfy to be able to say that this is the case.

None of these consulted parties can refuse or demand CPR on the person’s behalf. It is ultimately a clinical decision, informed by the views of those interested in the person’s welfare, rather than a decision of those people.

What if a person lacks capacity and there is no family to consult?

If the decision-making is taking place in hospital an independent mental capacity advocate (IMCA) should be involved. However, the duty to arrange for an IMCA does not apply in a setting where they are not being cared for or treated by an NHS body. In either case, medical professionals need to try to identify all relevant evidence for what the person would wish.

Do the same principles apply to those under 18?

The concept of mental capacity only applies to those over 16. Below age 16, the question is whether the child is Gillick-competent to participate in the decision-making process.

The most important consultation, if the child lacks capacity/competence should be with the person with parental responsibility. A person under 18 cannot make an ADTR, but they can express wishes and feelings, which should be considered.

End of life: how to raise advance care planning with patients rcni.com/end-of-life-planning

Find out more

Resuscitation Council UK: ReSPECT for Healthcare Professionals. www.resus.org.uk/respect/respect-healthcare-professionals

Share this page