“In case you sue us”. A discussion on consent.

Guest blog by Emma Ashworth

I had a mole removed yesterday.  Just a simple procedure, done in the GP clinic on a smooth running, efficient weekly service.

Before the doctor went anywhere near me with a scalpel, I was asked to sign a consent form because, of course, even when I ask someone to cut a piece off me, we all need to be very clear about what exactly I have requested, and what they have agreed to do.  I’m quite fussy about consent forms.  I like to know what I’m signing.  I like to read all of the details and to ensure that I clearly understand what is being offered and what the potential risks may be.

Consent forms can often be long and complicated.  This one wasn’t – it was a small piece of text on an A5 sheet of paper and the consent wording was along the lines of, “I agree that I have been fully informed of all of the risks, which may include bleeding, pain and scaring”.  It reminded me of a self-discharge form that I was asked to sign in hospital once.  It stated that, “I have been made fully aware of all of the risks of self-discharging”.  However, the reason that I was self-discharging was that I had been in the hospital for two days without seeing a doctor once, my symptoms had gone and I was clearly low priority, as otherwise I would have already have had a discussion with the doctor, which would have meant that I was, in fact, fully aware of any risks of leaving.  I hadn’t, so I wasn’t.  I declined to sign that form and left anyway.

In AD 579, Emperor Justin II was in need of emergency surgery.  No surgeon would even attempt the procedure because they were too worried about being blamed for it if it went wrong.  Emperor Justin handed the surgeons the scalpel himself to clearly show his request for the surgery, and promised that there would be no retributions if they failed.  In fact, he died, so it’s a good job that they did!  This very early example of consent being gained for the surgeons’ protection rather than the patient’s, is now being repeated time after time in our hospitals and clinics.  The time pressures on clinicians is such that it is extraordinarily difficult for them to walk us through the pros and cons of different options, and so often reduced to the effects of the paternalism endemic throughout history, where the likes of Henri de Mondeville in the late 13th Century stated, “patients […] should obey their surgeons implicitly in everything appertaining to their cure”, and even the Hippocratic texts which recommend, “concealing most things from the patient, while you are attending to him.”

While the lack of information sharing nowadays is almost always for entirely different reasons (a lack of time, not desire for control), we do see responses from medical staff when we ask for more information which perhaps many might get huge value from reflecting on. In my experience, impatience is the usual reaction, which again is likely to be because of time constraints, but sometimes there is perhaps a paternalistic throw back. For instance, I was once in a meeting with a consultant who was in discussions with a doula client.  She had plenty to ask after much preparation between us.  After she had gone through a number of her questions, the doctor asked in rather frustrated tones, “You seem to know an awful lot about this. Who have you been talking to?”

My client responded, “Well, my doula”

To which the doctor snapped back, “No, I meant which professionals?”.

So, to go back to my own minor surgery yesterday. I read the consent form and I pointed out that to sign to say that I was fully informed of the potential risks, without them all being laid out, was not full consent. The doctor replied that there was a list, look, right there, and anyway it’s just, he said, so that you won’t sue if there’s any issues.  I explained that I meant that the wording itself implied that there were other risks that weren’t listed – I couldn’t blanket consent to say that I know everything – and, importantly from his perspective, he was unlikely to be protected if, say, he hit a tendon and caused me to lose function in my hand.

The next day I happened to be in the same GP surgery again for a physio appointment. Because my wound had bled quite badly, I asked the receptionist if she would be able to get me a replacement dressing from the nurse.  “Oh no”, she replied, “you’ll have to have an appointment for that”.

“Why?” I asked. “It’s basically like changing a plaster, I can just do it myself”.

“Well,” she responded, “you might sue us if it’s been bleeding so I need to make sure that the nurse sees you to protect ourselves.”

Is this really where we have gone with obtaining consent? I cannot change my own simple dressing because I might sue for some minor bleeding that I’d already signed to say that I understood might happen?.  On the one hand, are health professionals trying to desperately cover themselves with extensive notes, and consent forms which may or may not be adequate, and on the other hand completely unable to give people in their care the time to actually talk things through properly? What does obtaining consent mean? When women in the throes of labour are bullied in caesareans with long speeches about the dangers of continuing with their vaginal birth, and then they are given complex consent forms with risks such as “death” as they’re being wheeled towards the theatre, can we really say that they’re consenting?  And in the end, who, if anyone, is being protected here?

Consent is not as simple as signing a consent form. Food for thought for both health carers and the people in their care.

 

 

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NMC Consultation – Respond before 17th June and here’s some help with doing it.

Guest Blog by Rachel Gardner of Forging Families

Dear Friends,

This is the most important thing I have ever written, and I implore you to read it and act upon it by answering these two questions in this government questionnaire.

This is not about labour or conservatives, this is about midwives and women and birth and about saving women’s choice in birth and about saving the midwives who support these changes.

Please get involved and get others involved. The deadline is 17th June. ACT NOW.

THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONNAIRE YOU COULD EVER COMPLETE.

This questionnaire is here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/518039/NMC_regulation_consultation_document_A.pdf

It is for professionals and the public but is worded in such a way that most members of the public would not fully understand what is being asked.

There are two questions that you MUST answer. The rest of the questions you can skip but the first two please respond too, and then submit your questionnaire to the government.

Question 1 is:

Do you agree that this additional tier of regulation for midwives should be removed?

This question is referring to the role of Supervisor of Midwives. Supervisor of midwives role is to protect women’s choice, and women’s choice regarding their birth is one the most important things in maternity. Supervisors of Midwives support women choosing birth outside of ‘policy’ or outside of specific guidelines.
Without the role of Supervisor of Midwives the potential is for Trusts to refuse to care for women choosing care outside box guidelines and there will be no protection or support for midwives providing care in these instances.

This would be a catastrophe for maternity care and for women and for choice in birth.

Midwifery supervision brings challenge to Trusts when advocating for the safety of women. This is a healthy level of challenge ensuring Trusts management maintain women’s safety as the focus of their care, enabling women’s choices to be listened to and respected. SoMs also work collaboratively across trusts sharing best practice, completing external investigations and providing “fresh eyes” on midwifery practice. All this has the potential to be lost with the removal of the regulatory function of Supervisors of Midwives.

Do we agree with this happening? No, no no!

Question 2 is:

Do you agree that the current requirement in the NMC’s legislation for a statutory Midwifery Committee should be removed?

Considering the NMC stands for Nursing and Midwifery Council there is poor representation by midwives in the council. If the midwifery Committee is to be removed from the NMC the voice of midwives will become weaker than ever. Someone has to protect the function and role of a midwife or it will be lost forever. Allied health professionals are not just nurses in the same way as midwives are not just nurses. This is like physiotherapists being regulated by radiographers. It just doesn’t make sense. The professions although within health are completely different.

Should we remove midwives from the Nursing and MIDWIFERY Council? No, no, no!