Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Let’s raise a glass to the ordinary sensible patient

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 28 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3956
  1. Daniel K Sokol, barrister and medical ethicist, 12 King’s Bench Walk, Temple, London
  1. Sokol{at}

Vagueness of some terms in the new UK law on patient consent allows for wide application in different situations

Horace Rumpole, the fictional barrister, would often raise a glass to the criminals of England. They kept him busy and paid the bills. Were Rumpole a clinical negligence barrister in practice today he would toast doctors with poor skills at obtaining consent. “Lack of consent” cases form an increasing part of my medical work.

All doctors should now be able to recite the new law on consent, post-Montgomery: “I should take reasonable care to ensure that the patient is aware of any material risks involved in the treatment I’m recommending, and of any reasonable alternatives.”1 2 3

The courts have already applied the new law to a handful of cases. One case in particular, Spencer versus Hillingdon Hospital NHS Trust, merits mention as it relates not to the provision of information before a procedure but after.4

Spencer case

On 1 February 2010 David Spencer, 49, underwent a hernia repair. He was discharged from hospital that same day with a pamphlet entitled “Hernia repair—information for patients.” The pamphlet advised, “If you have any problems following your discharge then please …

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