Education And Debate

Ethical Debate: Doctors' duty to patients

BMJ 1995; 311 doi: (Published 08 July 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;311:117
  1. Tom Sensky, senior lecturer in psychiatrya
  1. aDepartment of Psychiatry, West Middlesex University Hospital, Middlesex TW7 6AF

    Faced with a patient who refuses urgent treatment for a potentially life threatening condition, doctors sometimes ask a psychiatrist for help. They often ask the psychiatrist to make a patient subject to a section of the Mental Health Act,1 assuming that the patient's refusal to consent to treatment must be evidence of a mental disorder or that the Mental Health Act will assist in the patient's immediate management. The first assumption is not necessarily correct or relevant, and the second assumption is usually wrong.

    The Mental Health Act applies only to people suffering from a mental disorder. In the second case presented, if a psychiatrist had been able to make an assessment of the patient …

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