What is Informed Consent?13th Feb 2018
Whenever we put our trust in someone we do so because either we believe they will act in our best interests, they share the same set of values as us or they are in a position of authority so have the benefit of specialist knowledge.
Occasionally it’s all three of those things, such as a doctor or other medical professional.
Whenever we go to see our GP or we are under a surgeon in a hospital setting we trust that we will be given all the information we need regarding our medical issues, all of our options regarding treatment and the possible risks attached to each.
This is essential as without all the information it’s impossible to make the decision that’s right for us.
Just the Facts
There was a time when a doctor’s word was law and it was more or less assumed that a patient would follow the advice as it was given.
It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption either; they are – after all – the experts. But the world changed; as did the model that governs the treatment of patients.
Today doctors are required to give a patient all the information they need to make an educated decision on the kind of treatment they receive including recovery time, risks and any potential side effects.
The patient is also well within their rights to ask for a second opinion, alternatives to the proposed procedure (assuming any exist) or to refuse the treatment altogether.
Even if their condition is life threatening.
This is no doubt an indescribable source of frustration for medical professionals especially as most – if not all – have worked tirelessly to become experts, especially with the deluge of inaccurate and misleading information found online.
But the patient’s right to make an informed decision is fundamental to medical ethics and modern care. It also falls under international human rights law.
Giving Informed Consent
Informed consent can only be given when the patient is given full knowledge of the possible consequences, typical risks and benefits of any medical procedure.
According to the NHS, consent from the patient must be given regardless of the procedure, whether it’s a physical examination, surgery or anything else.
For consent to be valued the patient – you – has to make the decision voluntarily, have all the necessary information, and have the capacity to make the decision in the first place.
- Voluntary – your decision to undergo any form of medical procedure must be made freely without any kind of influence or pressure from medical staff, friends or family.
- Informed – you must be given all the information in terms of what the treatment involves including the benefits, the side effects and the risks.
You also need to be informed if alternative treatments exist and what will happen if you choose not to go ahead with the treatment.
- Capacity – you must be capable of giving consent which means you need to understand the information you’re being given and you’re using that information in order to reach an informed decision.
If these criteria are met then informed consent can be given. If not then the medical professional or the facility may have proceeded unjustly.
Note that consent can be given verbally or in writing. In some circumstances an individual can give consent non-verbally providing it’s clear that they understood what was being communicated to them. What constitutes non-verbal consent is something of a grey area.
What can I do?
If you believe that you have undergone a medical procedure or treatment without giving informed consent then you may be entitled to compensation.
You can – and should – make a formal complaint to the NHS, however this will likely only get you an apology and a report on which part of the system failed.
The truth is not all instances of treatment without informed consent will stand up in court, and judging whether or not your medical treatment was negligent can sometimes be difficult. Some cases will be too hard to prove or the harm to you will be considered negligible. That doesn’t make it right but it’s important that you understand what your chances of success are.
If you believe that you have gone through a medical procedure or received treatment that you did not consent to then contact our medical negligence team today to discuss your case.
We will talk you through the entire process, your circumstances and give you an honest assessment of your chances of success.
To book a free phone chat to discuss your claim please click here.