Healthcare professional standards in pandemic conditions: The duty to obtain consent to treatment

Sarah Devaney, Jose Miola, Emma Cave, Craig Purshouse, Rob Heywood

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Abstract

In the United Kingdom, the question of how much information is required to be given to patients about the benefits and risks of proposed treatment remains extant. Issues about whether healthcare resources can accommodate extended shared decision-making processes are yet to be resolved. COVID-19 has now stepped into this arena of uncertainty, adding more complexity. U.K. public health responses to the pandemic raise important questions about professional standards regarding how the obtaining and recording of consent might change or be maintained in such emergency conditions, particularly in settings where equipment, medicines, and appropriately trained or specialized staff are in short supply. Such conditions have important implications for the professional capacity and knowledge available to discuss the risks and benefits of and alternatives to proposed treatment with patients. The government’s drive to expedite the recruitment to wards of medical students nearing the end of their studies, as well as inviting retired practitioners back into practice, raises questions about the ability of such healthcare providers to engage fully in shared decision-making. This article explores whether the legal duty on healthcare practitioners to disclose the material risks of a proposed medical treatment to a patient should be upheld during pandemic conditions or whether the pre-eminence of patient autonomy should be partly sacrificed in such exceptional circumstances. We argue that measures to protect public health and to respect autonomous decision-making are not mutually exclusive and that there are good reasons to maintain professional standards in obtaining consent to treatment even during acute pressures on public health systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)789–792
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Bioethical Inquiry
Volume17
Early online date10 Nov 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Consent
  • Duty of care
  • Healthcare professional standards
  • Pandemic

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