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Consent to treatment

Explains your rights around giving consent to or refusing treatment. Find out what consent means, when you could be treated without your consent, and how to make complaints.

What does ‘consent to treatment’ mean?

Giving ‘consent to treatment’ for mental health means both that:

  • You agree with a health professional about a treatment they've suggested for you.
  • You have given your consent verbally or in writing to receiving that treatment. In some cases you can also give non-verbal consent, for example holding out your arm for a blood test.

Generally, you need to give your consent before receiving any treatment. While there are some exceptions, if a health professional gives you treatment without your consent, this may be a criminal offence.

To be able to consent to treatment, you need to meet all of the following criteria:

Even if you have consented to treatment, you can change your mind at any time. If so, you can let your care team know.

Example: not giving consent freely

Jamie is a voluntary patient in hospital receiving treatment for their mental health problem. One of the treatments available is group therapy, but Jamie really doesn't want to do this.

A member of staff tells Jamie that if they don't participate in group therapy, then it's pointless for them to be there. The member of staff also says that if Jamie tries to leave, they will be sectioned.

Because of this, Jamie agrees to doing group therapy. However, Jamie has been coerced – forced through pressure and threats – into agreeing to the treatment. In this case, they have not given their consent freely.

What does ‘having capacity’ mean?

‘Having capacity’ means being able to understand information and make decisions about your life.

To have capacity to consent to treatment, you must be able to do all of the following:

  • Understand the information relevant to the decision.
  • Retain that information.
  • Use or weigh up that information as part of the decision-making process.
  • Communicate your decision. This could be through talking, using sign language or any other way.

You are said to ‘lack capacity’ to make decisions about your treatment if:

  • You do not understand the information.
  • You are unable to make a decision about your treatment because of this.

For more details, see our page on capacity.

How can I get information about treatment?

In order to make a decision about treatment, you should have enough information to consider the positives and negatives. It might help to ask your health professional to answer any questions you have.

For example, you could ask:

  • Will this treatment work?
  • Will you force me to have treatment?
  • How long will it take to work?
  • Does it have side effects?
  • Are the side effects permanent?
  • Is there anything to counter the side effects?
  • Are there any alternatives to this treatment?
  • What is the success rate of this treatment?
  • Why are you recommending it?
  • What will happen if I don't have the treatment?
  • What care and treatment guidelines does the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend for this diagnosis?

NICE is an independent organisation that provides national guidance on health and care in England and Wales. For more information, visit the NICE website.

Healthcare professionals should do their best to give you clear information about any suggested treatment. NICE guidance states that healthcare professionals should help you make decisions about your treatment, so that you can make an informed decision.

You can also speak to your local pharmacist for information about medication.

For more tips on getting clear, balanced information, see our pages on making sense of your options and being actively involved in treatment.

Can I agree to treatment if I lack capacity?

If you lack capacity to make a decision, the health professional in charge of your treatment will make the decision in your best interests. This could be treatment for a mental or physical health problem. Some more serious treatments can only be decided by the Court of Protection.

The health professional making the decision will take lots of things into account. For example, this could also include talking to your family and friends.

If you're worried about losing capacity to make treatment decisions in the future, there are things you can do to plan ahead.

For more information about lacking capacity, see our pages on the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Example: lacking capacity

Ali lives in a care home. He lacks capacity to decide whether to have life-saving treatment for a physical health problem because of his delusions. The Court of Protection will decide whether he needs the physical treatment. It will take his wishes and feelings into account.

This information was published in September 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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