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Why consent is crucial

Patients have a fundamental legal and ethical right to determine what happens to their own bodies. Valid consent to treatment is therefore absolutely central in all forms of healthcare, from providing personal care to undertaking major surgery. Seeking consent is also a matter of common courtesy between health professionals and patients. For consent to be valid, it must be given voluntarily by an appropriately informed person who has the capacity to consent to the intervention in question (this will be the patient or someone with parental responsibility for a patient under the age of 18, someone authorised to do so under a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) or someone who has the authority to make treatment decisions as a court appointed deputy). Acquiescence where the person does not know what the intervention entails is not ‘consent’.

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in October 2000, giving further effect in the UK to the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. All public authorities are required to act in accordance with the rights set out in the Human Rights Act, and all other statutes have to be interpreted by the courts so far as possible in accordance with those rights. The main articles that are likely to be relevant in medical case law are Article 2 (protection of the right to life), Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) and Article 5 (the right to liberty).

Compliance with the Human Rights Act is largely reflected in existing good ethical practice, but all health practitioners should be aware of the Human Rights Act and ensure that they act in compliance with it. The British Medical Association (BMA) has a handbook of ethics and law that gives advice on how the Human Rights Act relates to a range of relevant issues.

 

Policy Details

Download: PDF version
Compiled by: Deputy Medical Director and Chief of Patient Safety
Ratified by: Safety and Quality Committee (Chair's Action)
Date Ratified: September 2020
Date Issued: September 2020
Review Date: September 2023
Target Audience: All clinical staff
Contact name: Deputy Medical Director and Chief of Patient Safety

 

See also:

  • Guidelines for the producing patient information
  • Publication & provision of patient Information policy.
  • Guidelines for using interpreting services
  • Guidance for Doctors on post-Mortem examination.
  • Post-mortem examination: Code of practice and standards (Human Tissue Authority)
  • Resuscitation and ReSPECT policy
  • Assessing a patient’s mental capacity to make decisions
  • Mental Capacity Act 2005
  • Mental Capacity Act 2005 Code of Practice