We take a look at the issue of medical consent from a personal perspective
The son of one of our lawyers recently needed emergency treatment at a Devon hospital after an unfortunate accident on a farm. When the time came for him to be wheeled into the operating theatre, she was asked to sign a medical consent form. She stood there, pen in hand, while the medical team busily prepared for the operation. As a litigation solicitor specialising in clinical negligence she should have been better prepared than most, but it’s difficult to remain cool, calm and collected when it’s your own child who’s about to go under general anaesthetic.
Most patients sign the medical consent forms with barely a few moments’s thought, especially in an emergency situation, and on this occasion she was no different. After all, without consent being given the treatment cannot proceed and she didn’t want to do anything that might hold things up.
All healthcare professionals need the patient’s consent (or if it’s a child, their parent’s consent) before they can provide treatment. Consent is normally provided verbally, but when a patient needs surgery, they will be asked to provide consent in writing.
There is more time for reflection in non-emergency situations. Patients would be right to ask, `What does this involve? What exactly am I consenting to?’ In many instances the patient will have no choice in practical terms but to give their consent. In other cases the risks might need to be weighed more carefully before consent is given. It is so important that these issues are properly considered because if things do go wrong, the consent form is one of the documents that the lawyers will call for.
Anyone who finds themselves requiring treatment should think carefully about the medical consent form they are presented with and the implications it can have. The consent form should stipulate the procedure that the patient is about to undergo, who is performing it and the risks involved. Patients should make sure they read the form and ask questions about what could go wrong. You should not be afraid to ask about the success rate of the procedure and what other options are available. Question the health professional about contingencies if things don’t go to plan. What is the worst case scenario?
It is important to bear in mind that if you have not been given sufficient information to provide what is termed ‘informed consent’, serious ethical issues arise which could result in a legal claim being made.
If you wish to discuss the issue of informed consent and the possibility of bringing a medical negligence claim then call our free legal helpline on 0333 888 0404