Nursing: Consent to Share

Patients who are mentally incapacitated are not able to give their informed consent to receiving treatment.   This is the case with many elderly folk and provision is made for them under the Mental Health Act (1983).   Such a situation occurred at a hospital during one of my practice placements.
There was an elderly, female patient in the Elderly and Special Care Ward who was rather confused and consistently refused to take medicine.   It was breakfast time and the registered nurse, with her back to the patient, popped a pill into her porridge. She then proceeded to feed the patient.
This appeared to me rather irregular, so I politely discussed it with the nurse.   She told me it was quite common practice, and it was in the patient’s best interest to take the prescribed medicine.   However, in this instance she was acting upon her own initiative.   It seemed contrary to the NMC Standards of Conduct (2008) which clearly emphasises the patient’s right to refuse treatment.   Medication is part of an overall scheme of treatment and, when agreeing to enter hospital a patient is automatically accepting ‘hospitalisation’ and therefore could be reasonably considered to have agreed to the associated treatment.   This would appear to be the general view of many nurses, but doesn’t alter the fact that the final decision lies with the patient who, in this case, said “No”.

No person can live in isolation.   We all need each other in order to simply survive.   When we develop special skills which we place at the disposal of others for remuneration, they are placing their trust in us.   We must be able to justify our conduct and are therefore accountable to them for carrying out the duties we have agreed to do.   The NMC Code of professional conduct (2004) defines “accountable” as being “responsible for something or to someone” and, for a nurse, there is high priority for that “something” to be her duty of care for that “someone” who is her patient and her patient’s doctor.   In the...