The National Consent Advisory Group published a HSE policy on obtaining patient consent which is essential reading for any medical practitioner.

Consent is a fundamental prerequisite to treating patients and in Ireland, the threshold for consent is particularly high.  Therefore, it is critical that healthcare professionals are aware of their obligations at all times.

The National Consent Advisory Group published a HSE policy to cover all aspects of consent this summer.  The policy can be viewed online at www.hse.ie.  Strictly speaking the policy applies to all patient interactions conducted by, or on behalf of, the HSE.  However, it does reflect best practice, ethical guidance and Irish case law and is a useful guide for all healthcare practitioners in both public and private settings. 

Broadly speaking the policy states that adequate information should be given in relation to:

  • The diagnosis and prognosis and any uncertainties;
  • Treatment options;
  • The purpose of any proposed treatment and what it will involve;
  • The potential benefits, risks and likelihood of a successful outcome;
  • Whether there is any experimental aspect to the proposed treatment; and
  • Associated cost.

The practitioner providing treatment is responsible for ensuring that adequate consent is obtained.  As a result, this policy document is something which all practitioners (medical or dental) should read and consider.  The policy is also helpful as it discusses some of the more difficult situations a practitioner can face in relation to consent, for example; what happens if a patient lacks the capacity to consent; what is the position on consent when children are in the care of the HSE or foster parents; or, can patient confidentiality be guaranteed when it comes to a minor.

Consent is a difficult and sometimes onerous issue which practitioners face on a daily basis.  Whilst no policy document, no matter how comprehensive, can address all the complex and nuanced situations that can arise in daily practice, this policy acts as a useful, user friendly guideline in relation to the consenting process in general.