Helping you decide - our consent policy

Patients and visitors

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The staff caring for you may need to ask your permission to perform a particular treatment or investigation.

The information on this page explains our consent policy. If there is anything you don’t understand, please ask the staff caring for you. They will be able to answer your questions or give you more information.

Remember, it's up to you whether you consent to the treatment or investigation that is being proposed.

  • What you can expect

    Before a doctor, nurse or other health professional examines or treats you, they need your consent. We will:

    • explain any proposed treatment to you in a way you can understand
    • involve you in all the decisions about your care or treatment. If you do not want to know about certain aspects of your treatment, please talk to us about this.

    For most simple procedures, you will only need to say that you agree for us to go ahead.

    For more complicated procedures, including any that need sedation or an anaesthetic, we will ask you to sign a consent form confirming your agreement. We will usually do this when you visit the outpatient clinic.

    It is your right to have a copy of this form.

    You will then be asked to confirm that you wish to go ahead on the day of your admission to hospital.

  • Asking for your consent

    When we ask you to agree to any treatment or investigation, you can expect the staff caring for you to explain:

    • the type and extent of the treatment being proposed
    • the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment
    • any alternative treatments that might be available
    • any significant risks and side-effects
    • your right to change your mind and withdraw consent at any time.

    We might need to take your blood or small sections of tissue, for example of an unexplained lump, as part of your treatment. You should be told in advance if samples are likely to be taken. These samples might also be used for teaching and research, although we will not use them in a way that can identify you unless we have your permission.

    We sometimes use images, including x-rays, scans, photographs and videos, for teaching and research. Unless we have your permission, these will not be published or used in a way that can identify you. If you have any concerns about this, please talk to the staff caring for you.

  • What if I need more information?

    We encourage you to ask questions at any time.

    If you're not sure about what you are being told, please tell the staff straight away so you can discuss the proposed treatment or investigation in more detail. It is not unusual for people to discuss medical treatments more than once.

    It is often a good idea to ask a relative or friend, or your nurse, to be with you when your treatment is being explained. This will help you if you are discussing the treatment later.

    You might find it helpful to write down any questions you want to ask. It is important that we know about your concerns so that we can answer any questions.

    We can arrange for you to speak with someone in the language you need, or in sign language. For more information, please call 020 7188 8815.

  • Making your decision or changing your mind

    Please tell us if you want time to think about what is being proposed. Although we may recommend a particular treatment or investigation, you are free to choose another. We all have different attitudes about how much risk or pain we find acceptable.

    However, we cannot give a treatment to you if:

    • it is not available
    • we feel it is not suitable for your care

    What if I change my mind?

    You can change your mind at any time, even if you have signed a consent form. Make sure you tell your doctor or the nurse in charge immediately so this can be recorded in your medical notes and everyone is aware of your decision.

    You do not have to give a reason for refusing treatment, but it is helpful to tell the staff about your concerns so they can give you the best advice. If you are unsure about agreeing to a particular treatment, you might consider asking for another opinion from a different doctor, nurse or other health professional. If you do, we will do our best to help you.

  • Who can give consent and advance directives?

    If you are an adult patient (18 years old and over), only you can give consent for your treatment. Your relatives or next of kin cannot do this on your behalf.

    If you are a young person (16 or 17 years old) you are also able to consent to your own treatment although in this case someone with parental responsibility could also give consent.

    If you are incapacitated, for example because you are unconscious, you may need to be treated in your best interests unless this can wait until you regain capacity. In this case the opinions of your family or those close to you may be taken into consideration alongside all other information, but we must make a decision to act in your best interests.

    There are other, very specific, circumstances when senior medical staff might need to make decisions on behalf of an adult, for example if someone is detained under the Mental Health Act.

    There are some additional issues about consent in the case of children under 16 years of age, and we will explain these to you if they apply.

    Visit the Department of Health website for detailed information on any of the above cases.

    What if I have made an advance directive?

    If you have made an advance directive – sometimes known as a living will – before losing the ability to decide for yourself or to communicate effectively, you or your relatives should make the staff aware of this as soon as possible. Details will then be placed in your medical notes, which will allow us to respect your wishes.

  • Consent and confidentiality

    Any information we hold about you will be treated confidentially. This information will be used to give you the best possible care. It will also be used to help us run and monitor the quality of our services.

    We might use some of the information about you for research, but only after we have removed any details which would make it possible to identify you. No information about you will be used in any way that can identify you unless we have asked for your permission.