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Paternalism vs partnership

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How much should healthcare professionals share wit How much should healthcare professionals share with patients before treatments?

Last year’s Supreme Court case around consent, Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board (Scotland) [2015] UKSC 11, has been called as one of the most significant in healthcare law for over 30 years. The decision has far reaching ramifications for healthcare practice. This article explores how the case of Nadine Montgomery and the injuries to her son during childbirth signalled a major change in the requirements placed on doctors’ and nurses’ practice.

The thread running through the case law and discussion concerned a patient’s right to self-determination and autonomy by making informed choices and decisions. The days of the doctor or nurse knowing best and making decisions for their patients, however well intentioned, are well and truly at an end.

A doctor or nurse is bound to respect their patients’ rights and the law, by seeking informed consent prior to commencing treatment. This obligation is contained in the regulatory requirements of the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. As the nursing profession develops and specialist nurses take on more niche roles an understanding of the law on consent becomes increasingly important. For example, with the advent of non-medical prescribing, nurses are discussing, advising and prescribing their patients’ drugs for often complex and multiple problems or conditions.

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