Consent and confidentiality

Whenever you receive treatment we want you to understand what is happening and why. At certain points our medical staff will ask you to give formal consent to your treatment – this is to make sure we are protecting your rights and keeping you informed. In addition we must always protect your confidentiality. The information below explains exactly when and why we will ask for your consent and what your rights are.

Teaching on the wards

Royal Brompton Hospital is a postgraduate teaching hospital where doctors, nurses and paramedical staff receive advanced training.  Some of this training takes place in the wards and a small number of postgraduate students may be present when your doctor is with you. They may wish to examine you, but if you would rather not have students involved, please tell the doctor or nurse.

Research studies

We also carry out research studies and you may like to help us by taking part in them. If so, we will explain the study, ask you to sign a consent form and give you a copy to keep. Read more about our research and its aims.

Your treatment and care will in no way be affected if you prefer not to participate in any research. You may change your mind at any time.

Consent to operation

All operations, and most procedures involving more than simple clinical examination, require your consent. You will be asked to sign a consent form. This is a very important process. It is a legal requirement and is designed to protect you. 

It is also a good opportunity for your doctor to explain the proposed operation or procedure, why it is being offered to you, and any alternatives that might be available. Most importantly, your doctor will discuss with you any risks involved in the procedure you are advised to undergo. You may ask questions about your treatment whenever you feel concerned.

We aim to encourage your active participation in decisions relating to your treatment, and to provide you with sufficient information regarding risks and benefits to enable you to make a properly informed decision.

When discussing the risks and benefits of your treatment your doctor will assess the risks as they apply to you personally. He or she is likely to discuss risks in percentage terms; if you find these numbers difficult to understand, please ask for a full explanation. 

It is not usual for your doctor to counsel you about risks that are very remote. If you wish to know about even the most remote risks, please ask for these to be explained to you.

Children and consent

Where you are being asked to consent to treatment on behalf of your child, similar conditions apply. Generally speaking you will be asked to give formal consent on behalf of your child when he or she is under 16 years old. 

However, your child may be competent to consent to their own behalf even below the age of 16, in some cases. This will depend on their level of understanding and the complexity of the procedure involved. Even where your formal consent is required, our staff will attempt to involve your child in the process of obtaining consent, where this is appropriate.

Safeguarding patient confidentiality

We will at all times keep information about you confidential. This is a legal and ethical obligation.

However this means that health professionals cannot discuss your treatment and progress, even with close relatives, without your specific permission. Similarly, the risks of proposed treatment may not be disclosed to your relatives or friends without specific permission.

Relatives are advised therefore that situations may arise where you decline to disclose to them the risks involved in your treatment, and even close relatives may remain unaware of any significant risks that you might face. 

Hospital staff my not intervene to communicate clinical information to relatives in circumstances where this is contrary to your wishes.

Patients unable to give or withhold consent

In situations where a patient is incapacitated and is unable to give or withhold consent to treatment, the situation is different. In these cases health professionals have to proceed in the basis of what they consider to be the patient's best interest. 

As part of their deliberation, they will try to discover any wishes previously expressed by the patient. In these cases it will usually be appropriate to discuss the risks and benefits of proposed treatments with the patient's relatives.

Copying letters 

You can choose to receive a copy of letters written by one health professional to another about you. This policy has been running since August 2004. 

We believe that sharing these letters will help improve communications between you and your health professionals.

What do we mean by a letter?

A letter includes communications between health professionals including GPs, hospital doctors, nurses and therapists. This may include:

  • letters to GPs and other community based health professionals
  • details of an outpatient consultation
  • letters from NHS health professionals to other agencies such as social services or housing

All the information in these letters should already have been discussed with you. However, it is important to remember that these letters provide other health professionals with clinical information about your treatment and care. Therefore, you may find that some of the language includes technical terms.

Who can I talk to if I have questions about a letter I receive?

Each letter will be written by a member of your consultant's team. If you wish to discuss the contents of a letter please contact the consultant's secretary via the Trust switchboard.

Royal Brompton Hospital: 020 7352 8121