CONSENT: what it means and how it can be used


Nurse Director
Jun 8, 2007
The North
United Kingdom United Kingdom
Defining consent
For consent to be valid, it must be voluntary and informed, and the person consenting must have the capacity to make the decision. These terms are explained below:
  • Voluntary – the decision to either consent or not to consent to treatment must be made by the person themselves, and must not be influenced by pressure from medical staff, friends or family.
  • Informed – the person must be given all of the information in terms of what the treatment involves, including the benefits and risks, whether there are reasonable alternative treatments and what might happen if treatment doesn't go ahead.
  • Capacity – the person must be capable of giving consent, which means they understand the information given to them, and they can use it to make an informed decision.

If an adult has the capacity to make a voluntary and informed decision to consent to or refuse a particular treatment, their decision must be respected.

Someone could also give non-verbal consent, as long as they understand the treatment or examination about to take place – for example, holding out an arm for a blood test.

Consent should be given to the healthcare professional directly responsible for the person's current treatment, such as:
  • a nurse or phlebotomist arranging a blood test
  • a GP prescribing new medication
  • a surgeon planning an operation or other treatment
  • a physiotherapist about to commence therapy
  • any other medical technician such as a radiographer, physiotherapist/physical therapist, occupational therapist, etc.
If someone is going to have a major medical procedure or treatment, their consent should ideally be secured well in advance, so they have plenty of time to obtain information about the procedure and ask questions.

If they change their mind at any point before (or during the procedure where appropriate), the person is entitled to withdraw their previous consent.

Some findings by the General Medical Council1, NHS Choices1, the British Journal of Medical Practitioners2, NCBI article3
1. A competent patient has the right to refuse treatment and their refusal must be respected, even if it will result in their death. If they change their mind at any point before the procedure (or during where appropriate) the person is fully entitled to withdraw their previous consent.

2. A patient’s consent to a particular treatment may not be valid if it is given under pressure or duress exerted by another person.

3. Patient has got the right of self-determination. Obtaining consent is not only an ethical obligation, but also a legal compulsion. No doctor can sit in comfort with the belief that the “consent” can certainly avoid legal liability. This is highlighted by the note of The California Supreme Court

This means that if a patient withdraws consent and compliance with a schedule of physio or physical therapy, they must be free to do so without any argument or pressure to change their mind. If a patient chooses to refuse a certain part of therapy, such as having their knee forcibly bent after a TKR, then this too must be respected.

Refusal of consent
1. There is also a legal angle to this concept. No one has the right to even touch, let alone treat another person. Any such act, done without permission, is classified as “battery”or physical assault and is punishable by law.

2. "A doctor who operates without the consent of his patient is guilty of the civil wrong of trespass to the person; he is also guilty of the criminal offence of assault." This also applies to nurses, therapists and technicians of all types and where consent has verbally been withdrawn at the time.

You have a right to decline therapy or parts of therapy that are painful and/or distressing to you.

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