You must tell them about alternatives

Following a rise in claims alleging clinicians failed to explain possible alternative treatment, Dr Emma Green looks at the case law surrounding therapeutic options, GMC guidance on consent and how these impact on information provided to patients.

High-profile cases on consent, most notably Montgomery vs Lanarkshire (2015) and Chester vs Afshar (2014), have brought the consent process into considerable focus. 

However, there has recently been an increasing number of claims alleging failure to explain alternative treatment options, including the option of no treatment. 

Case law

Consent has been debated in courts since Bolam vs Friern Hospital Management Committee (1957) and has moved forward considerably from a paternalistic, doctor-centred process, towards a patient-focused consent process.

The case of Montgomery vs Lanarkshire Health Board (2015) was pivotal in changing how consent is viewed by the courts and highlighted the importance of material risk from a patient perspective. 

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