Is there such a thing as informed consent?

7th August 2008 by Judith Harvey

A patient and a doctor lying hand in hand on the operating table. That was what came to my mind as I browsed ‘Consent: patients and doctors making decisions together’, the GMC’s new guidance. Consent, it rightly says, is a process, and obtaining it is a partnership. But ultimately the dialogue has to come to an end, and then the patient is on his own.

A doctor who has obtained ‘informed consent’ has done her duty. The patient has understood the risks and benefits and thought about what they mean for him, and has made his decision. On paper, it all sounds so very rational. But real life is rarely rational. Can there be such a thing as truly informed consent?

In the bad old days, obtaining consent meant shoving a form under a patient’s nose, months after their outpatient appointment and an hour before surgery. I wonder if what is now shoved is a handful of leaflets, and if so, whether they are provided in a way and at a time that actually helps the patient. Couldn’t an outpatient appointment be offered after the procedure has been agreed but before surgery? That way, once the realities have sunk in patients could talk to the surgeon about their worries: the rare side effect mentioned in the leaflet; waking up vomiting after the operation; who will look after Rover while they are in hospital. Surgeons are not like timeshare salesman; well, not usually, but a cooling off period would probably reduce the number of operations and improve the outcome of those that are performed.

Read for free

Sign up to access everything.

Free trial


Already a member? Login to view this content.


"I started working as a locum GP in January this year and NASGP have been invaluable in helping to co-ordinate my bookings and organise all the administrative aspects of sessional work which can be complex and time consuming. Their client support is outstanding and they have always resolved any queries promptly and personally. They care about the service they provide and I would not hesitate to recommend them to any sessional GPs who want to minimise time spent on administration and focus on providing patients with high quality care."

Dr Paul Riley, Locum GP

Dr Paul Riley, Locum GP

See the full list of features within our NASGP membership plans