Your doctor is supposed to help you give informed consent to any treatment they offer before treating you. This means that:
- You understand what you're agreeing to (or saying no to), including the benefits, the risks, and what other options you have.
- You're agreeing (or refusing) freely and willingly, meaning you don't feel pressured or rushed into something by other people (including doctors and family members).
- You're mentally capable of making your own decision, which is legally called 'having capacity'. (For information what this means see our legal page on capacity).
Your doctor should help you by:
- Explaining the pros and cons of different options in a clear and balanced way.
- Providing written information for you to read (in print or online).
- Giving you enough time to make a decision you're happy with.
- Giving you the opportunity to actively say 'yes' or 'no'.
- Answering any questions you ask honestly, and showing respect for your decisions.
What can I do if I don't understand my doctor?
Unfortunately, not all doctors find it easy to make themselves clear at first. If you're still confused about your options after talking to your doctor, you can:
- Tell them so. They might not realise you don't understand.
- Keep asking them to give you more information, and explain what it means.
- Ask for information in a different format. (If you have a learning disability, ask for Easy Read format).
- Ask another healthcare professional to explain. (Pharmacists can help if you're confused about medication.)
- Discuss your thoughts with friends and family. You may find that just talking to someone outside of your healthcare team helps you work out what your questions and concerns are.
- If English isn’t your first language, you can:
- ask for a translation of any written information
- ask your doctor to provide an interpreter for your appointment
- ask someone who can interpret to come with you to your appointment.
- Speak to someone with similar experiences (sometimes called peer support).
- Contact an advocate (see our pages on advocacy).
The kinds of treatment and support you want to try may change over time, and it's common to feel unsure. Remember: it's OK to change your mind.
What questions could I ask my doctor?
You might want to ask:
- Why have they have chosen one form of treatment over another?
- How do they think it will help you?
- What are the possible side effects or disadvantages of the treatment you’ve been offered? How likely are they to happen?
- Are there any other options to choose from? (Your doctor may not always be able to offer exactly what you’d like, but they should always explain the reasons.)
You might want to prepare some questions before your appointment, but you can ask questions before, during and after treatment.
(See our page on what to know before taking medication for more ideas.)
Could I ever be given a treatment I haven't agreed to?
Usually no. But there are some very specific circumstances in which you might not have a choice about your treatment. These include:
- If you're in hospital under a section of the Mental Health Act (often called being sectioned). In this case your doctor should give you information and listen to your opinion, but they might legally be able to treat you against your wishes. (See our legal pages on sectioning for more information.)
- If you're under a community treatment order (CTO) – you may be given a CTO when you leave hospital after being sectioned. (See our legal pages on CTOs for more information.)
- If you 'lack mental capacity' – this is a legal term meaning you aren't currently considered able to understand information or make decisions (see our legal page on capacity for more information.)
See our legal pages on agreeing to treatment for more information about your legal rights to agree or refuse a treatment.
This information was published in December 2017 – to be revised in 2020. References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information see our page on permissions and licensing.