Consent process suffers under pressure says GMC

HEAVY workloads among doctors are impacting the consent process and undermining the doctor-relationship, according to the GMC.

This warning comes as the regulator launches a consultation on draft updated consent guidance which aims to take account of feedback from the profession on the need for assistance in working more effectively with patients to make decisions about their care.

Professor Colin Melville, the GMC’s Director of Education and a former consultant in intensive care medicine, said: "Consent is at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship and getting it right is fundamental to good medical practice.

"In the 10 years since we first published guidance on consent much has changed. Patients have more access to medical information outside the consulting room and rightfully expect to discuss options with their doctors before important decisions are made about their care. Health services and staff are more stretched and it is important that the guidance reflects the extra pressures doctors are facing."

The GMC says that the updated guidance is designed to help doctors navigate the complex practical challenges surrounding good consent practice in each of the four UK countries. It includes advice for doctors faced with different situations, such as treating patients who may lack the capacity to make decisions and assessing or treating a patient under mental health legislation.

Medical ethicist Professor Deborah Bowman is chairing an expert group advising the GMC on the consent guidance and since taking up the role she has been diagnosed with cancer, giving her a new perspective on consent.

Professor Bowman commented: "Consent and the ways in which people approach it will, inevitably, vary, but the constant remains the commitment on the part of professional and patient to collaborate.

"Choices, wherever they are made and in whatever clinical specialty, are based on sharing, openness, attentiveness and responsiveness. There will be constraints and challenges, but a disposition that recognises the primacy of partnership and the power of effective consent should be commonplace.

"We want to hear from patients and doctors during the consultation to know about their experiences and priorities in seeking or providing consent."

The draft guidance and consultation documents are available on the GMC website. The consultation is open until 23 January 2019. Responses will be considered before a final version of the updated guidance is published next year.