Can I Speak to a GP About Someone Else’s Health?
This is a question we very often get asked for a number of reasons.
The short answer is NO because of the issue of consent.
If you do not have consent we are unable to discuss any medical issues or information. If you have consent, you can speak about a friend or relative’s health with their GP or Medical Team.
If You Do Not Have Consent
You can raise concerns about a friend or relative’s health with their GP without their consent, but because of patient confidentiality, the GP will not be able to discuss any details or provide any information.
- Professionals can normally only share information about your relative if your relative tells them that they can. This is called ‘giving consent’.
- Your relative can sign a consent form if they are happy for professionals to share their information with you.
- Your relative could fill out an advance statement to explain who they want to share their information with if they lose mental capacity.
We have a standard consent form that can be completed, signed and added to a patients record, should you wish to give consent to another member of the family or a carer. This can be completed at any time or removed at any time by the patient.
Power of Attorney contracts are for specific items i.e. Property & Financial matters, Health & Welfare etc – if it does not include health, we cannot discuss medical matters.
Age 16 and over
People aged 16 or over are entitled to consent to their own medical treatment and privacy. Like adults, young people (aged 16 or 17) are presumed to have sufficient capacity to decide on their own medical treatment, unless there’s significant evidence to suggest otherwise. We cannot discuss any medical issues with parents/guardians unless we have consent on file.
Consent to treatment is the principle that a person must give permission before they receive any type of medical treatment, test or examination.
This must be done on the basis of an explanation by a clinician.
Consent from a patient is needed regardless of the procedure, whether it’s a physical examination, organ donation or something else.
The principle of consent is an important part of medical ethics and the international human rights law.
For consent to be valid, it must be voluntary and informed, and the person consenting must have the capacity to make the decision.
These terms are explained below:
- voluntary– the decision to either consent or not to consent to treatment must be made by the person themselves, and must not be influenced by pressure from medical staff, friends or family
- informed– the person must be given all of the information in terms of what the treatment involves, including the benefits and risks, whether there are reasonable alternative treatments, and what will happen if treatment doesn’t go ahead
- capacity– the person must be capable of giving consent, which means they understand the information given to them and they can use it to make an informed decision
If an adult has the capacity to make a voluntary and informed decision to consent to or refuse a particular treatment, their decision must be respected.
This is still the case even if refusing treatment would result in their death, or the death of their unborn child.
If a person doesn’t have the capacity to make a decision about their treatment, the healthcare professionals treating them can go ahead and give treatment if they believe it’s in the person’s best interests.
But clinicians must take reasonable steps to seek advice from the patient’s friends or relatives before making these decisions.
Read more about assessing the capacity to consent.
How consent is given
Consent can be given:
verbally– for example, by saying they’re happy to have an X-ray
in writing– for example, by signing a consent form for surgery
Someone could also give non-verbal consent, as long as they understand the treatment or examination about to take place – for example, holding out an arm for a blood test.
Consent should be given to the healthcare professional directly responsible for the person’s current treatment, such as:
- a nurse arranging a blood test
- a GP prescribing new medication
- a surgeon planning an operation
If someone is going to have a major medical procedure, such as an operation, their consent should ideally be secured well in advance, so they have plenty of time to obtain information about the procedure and ask questions.
If they change their mind at any point before the procedure, the person is entitled to withdraw their previous consent.
Consent from children and young people
If they’re able to, consent is usually given by patients themselves.
However, someone with parental responsibility may need to give consent for a child up to the age of 16 to have treatment.
Read more about the rules of consent applying to children and young people
When consent isn’t needed
There are a few exceptions when treatment may be able to go ahead without the person’s consent, even if they’re capable of giving their permission.
It may not be necessary to obtain consent if a person:
requires emergency treatment to save their life, but they’re incapacitated (for example, they’re unconscious) – the reasons why treatment was necessary should be fully explained once they’ve recovered
- immediately requires an additional emergency procedure during an operation – there has to be a clear medical reason why it would be unsafe to wait to obtain consent, and it can’t be simply for convenience
- with a severe mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or dementia, lacks the capacity to consent to the treatment of their mental health (under the Mental Health Act 1983) – in these cases, treatment for unrelated physical conditions still requires consent, which the patient may be able to provide, despite their mental illness
- requires hospital treatment for a severe mental health condition, but self-harmed or attempted suicide while competent and is refusing treatment (under the Mental Health Act 1983) – the person’s nearest relative or an approved social worker must make an application for the person to be forcibly kept in hospital, and two doctors must assess the person’s condition
- is a risk to public health as a result of rabies, cholera or tuberculosis (TB)
is severely ill and living in unhygienic conditions (under the National Assistance Act 1948) – a person who is severely ill or infirm and is living in unsanitary conditions can be taken to a place of care without their consent
Consent and life-sustaining treatments
A person may be being kept alive with supportive treatments – such as lung ventilation – without having made anadvance decision, which outlines the care they would refuse to receive.
In these cases, a decision about continuing or stopping treatment needs to be made based on what that person’s best interests are believed to be.
To help reach a decision, the healthcare professionals responsible for the person’s care should discuss the issue with the relatives and friends of the person receiving the treatment.
They should consider, among other things:
- what the person’s quality of life will be if treatment is continued
- how long the person may live if treatment is continued
- whether there’s any chance of the person recovering
Treatment can be withdrawn if there’s an agreement that continuing treatment isn’t in the person’s best interests.
The case will be referred to the courts before further action is taken if:
- an agreement can’t be reached
- a decision has to be made on whether to withdraw treatment from someone who has been in a state of impaired consciousness for a long time (usually at least 12 months)
It’s important to note the difference between withdrawing a person’s life support and taking a deliberate action to make them die. For example, injecting a lethal drug would illegal.
If you believe you’ve received treatment you didn’t consent to, you can make an official complaint, please write to the Practice Manager who will assist you with this process.