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Open Access Research article

Ethics, patient rights and staff attitudes in Shanghai's psychiatric hospitals

Liang Su12, Jingjing Huang2, Weimin Yang2, Huafang Li2, Yifeng Shen12 and Yifeng Xu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, Huashan Hospital, Fudan University, School of Medicine, No. 12 Wulumuqi Road (middle), Shanghai, 200040, People's Republic of China

2 Shanghai Mental Health Center, Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, No. 600 Wan Ping Nan Road, Shanghai, 200030, People's Republic of China

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BMC Medical Ethics 2012, 13:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-13-8

Published: 17 May 2012



Adherence to ethical principles in clinical research and practice is becoming topical issue in China, where the prevalence of mental illness is rising, but treatment facilities remain underdeveloped. This paper reports on a study aiming to understand the ethical knowledge and attitudes of Chinese mental health professionals in relation to the process of diagnosis and treatment, informed consent, and privacy protection in clinical trials.


A self-administered survey was completed by 1110 medical staff recruited from Shanghai’s 22 psychiatric hospitals. Simple random selection methods were used to identify target individuals from the computerized registry of staff.


The final sample for analysis consisted 1094 medical staff (including 523 doctors, 542 nurses, 8 pharmacologists and 21 other staff). The majority reported that their medical institutions had not established an Ethics Committee (87.8%) and agreed that Ethics Committees should be set up in their institutions (72.9%). Approximately half (52%) had not received systematic education in ethics, and almost all (89.1%) of the staff thought it was necessary. Nearly all participants (90.0%) knew the Shanghai Mental Health Regulations which was the first local regulations relating to mental health in China, but only 11% and 16.6% respectively knew of the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki. About half (51.8%) thought that the guardian should make the decision as to whether the patient participated in clinical trials or not.


The study indicates that most psychiatric hospitals in Shanghai have no Medical Ethics Committee. More than half the medical staff had not received systematic education and training in medical ethics and they have insufficient knowledge of the ethical issues related to clinical practice and trials. Training in ethics is recommended for medical staff during their training and as ongoing professional development.

Psychiatric hospital; Bioethics; Hospital Ethics Committees; Health Care Surveys; China