Consent is defined as “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something” (Oxford English Dictionary). In relation to health care, it is a general legal and ethical principle that valid consent must be obtained before commencing an examination, starting treatment or physical investigation, or providing care. This principle reflects the rights of a person to determine what happens to their own bodies or what shapes the care and support they receive. It is fundamental to good practice. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) professional practice document for nurses and midwives, The Code (NMC, 2015a) states that registered nurses must:
(4.1) “balance the need to act in the best interests of all people at all times with the requirement
to respect a person’s right to accept or refuse treatment”, and
(4.2) “make sure that you get properly informed consent and document it before carrying out any action”.
Registered nurses who do not respect this principle may be liable to both legal action by the person in their care and action by the NMC.
The requirement to gain consent has two purposes, one legal and the other clinical (Richardson V, 2013). The legal purpose is to provide those delivering treatment with a defence to a criminal charge of assault or battery or a civil claim for damages for trespass to the person. The clinical purpose comes from the fact that in most cases the co-operation of the person and the person’s confidence in the treatment is a major factor in their consenting to the examination, treatment or physical investigation, or the provision of care.