Advice & Information

The importance of Informed Consent

Date: November 22, 2018 by idu-net

Any doctor or healthcare professional should obtain their patient’s permission or agreement to undergo a course of treatment – now termed ‘informed consent’ following a Supreme Court judgment in the case of Montgomery –v- Lanarkshire Health Board in March 2015. This means that a doctor or healthcare professional should discuss all the treatment options (not just the procedure they favour) and their associated risks, even if the likelihood of harm arising from that risk that is very small.

Only then can they legally claim to have obtained your ‘informed consent’ to a medical procedure. If they fail to do so, fails to do that and you agree to a procedure (which you might not have done had you known about the specific risks) and you then suffer harm, this may give rise to a potential claim for clinical negligence. It is not necessary for you to have asked the doctor specific questions but if you do express concerns, then those must be addressed by the doctor as part of the process of obtaining your informed consent to treatment.

Simply reciting a list of medical terms and explaining things in a jargon-laden way will not be enough for the doctor to show that they obtained informed consent. The risks and possible side effects of treatments should be explained to you in non-technical language that you can clearly understand.

Those risks and options were not fully explained to Collette Culbertson (44), who was referred to Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust by her GP for a gynaecological review because she had been complaining of incontinence after minimal exertion such as coughing, sneezing or raising her voice for about a year.

She was referred for a urodynamics assessment on 7 March 2013 at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead when Collette’s symptoms were diagnosed as stress incontinence. Following the assessment, she attended a clinic on 25 March 2013 where the only treatment discussed was Tension-Free Vaginal Tape (TVT) surgery. However, this is not the only treatment option available, but since none of the alternatives had been discussed with her, she underwent the TVT surgery at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead on 4 July 2014.

During the surgery her bladder was perforated and as a consequence she required a catheter, however that became blocked and she suffered extreme pain which continued even after the catheter had been re-sited. In fact, her incontinence became worse after the operation. The case has now concluded with a settlement for Collette, although no formal admission of liability was made. This was a difficult case as the lawyers had to establish what Collette would have done at the time if she had been offered alternative treatments. It is important patients are told about the benefits and risks of all available options (including the option of doing nothing) and not just the doctor’s preferred option.

Anyone who has suffered as a result of sub-standard medical treatment should visit the IDU Legal website or call the FREE legal helpline on 0333 305 4357 to get a direct link to expert solicitors who can help.