“The operating surgeon getting consent can prevent and minimise huge issues,” Prof Freddie Wood, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, stated at a healthcare seminar organised by law firm Kennedys.
The Council’s ethical guide “is very clear on how consent should be taken, [but] not quite so clear on who must do it”, noted Prof Wood.
In terms of the information provided during the consent process, Prof Wood said clinicians should put themselves in the patient’s position – “What would you want to know and what would you not want to know?” He said patients needed information on the treatment, but also on the natural history of the disease.
“In my view, many of my colleagues fail in this [latter] aspect – they do not spend enough time informing people about the natural history of what is being treated,” commented Prof Wood. “When cancer is mentioned, that has a certain fatality or mortality about it and patients immediately understand that they need treatment. However, many of the conditions that I treated people for, cardiac conditions, were in fact more fatal than cancer neoplastic conditions and you have to spend a bit of time making them understand that what you are advising – even though there are risks attached to it – was in fact going to be, or have a better outcome, than if they stayed with the condition or even looked for alternative treatments.”
Prof Wood said the ‘reasonable person’ concept is the relevant test applying to consent. In elective situations, he added, obtaining consent should be a process and not just a once-off event.
Also speaking at the seminar in Dublin was barrister Mr Asim Sheikh and Ms Joanne O’Sullivan, Partner at Kennedys.