Consent to medical treatment

Answers some of the common questions about consent to medical treatment and explains the options available.

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Explaining legal terms

Public funding (formerly known as 'legal aid') may be available to pay for professional advice from a solicitor. It is means-tested (it depends on your income and savings) for most purposes, but not for appeals to the Mental Health Review Tribunal, which are free. If you want to find a solicitor who has knowledge of mental health law and issues, contact Mind Infoline or the Law Society. All hospital wards should also hold a list of local mental health solicitors.

Legal terms, as they appear in the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA), are printed in bold when they are used for the first time in this information (subsequently, they appear in ordinary type). Some people find these terms inappropriate, even offensive, but they are used here for the sake of legal accuracy. (Legal definitions appear below.) To keep this guide as straightforward as possible, we have kept technical terms to a minimum and have summarised the effects of the law and good practice, where appropriate. Where we use section numbers, they are from the MHA.

Legal definitions

Appropriate treatment – when in connection with the consent to treatment provisions of the Mental Health Act, means that the treatment is appropriate in the patient’s case, taking into account the nature and degree of the mental disorder from which he or she is suffering and all other circumstances of his or her case.

Approved clinician (AC) – a mental health professional approved to carry out certain duties under the Mental Health Act by the Secretary of State for Health (England) or by Welsh Ministers (Wales), and has the power to make decisions about a detained person’s treatment.

Care Quality Commission – health and social care regulator – protects the rights of people detained under the Mental Health Act.

Court of protection – has the power to make decisions with regard to someone’s capacity concerning financial matters and healthcare.

European Convention on Human Rights – fundamental legal principles, which must be applied to any situation involving public authorities, such as the NHS or social services.

Hospital – for the purposes of this booklet, this includes a private hospital and any accommodation provided by a local authority and used as a hospital.

Medical treatment for mental disorder – includes nursing, psychological intervention and specialist mental health habilitation, rehabilitation and care. Any reference in the Act to medical treatment for mental disorder refers to medical treatment with the purpose of alleviating, or preventing a worsening of, the disorder or one or more of its symptoms or manifestations (section 145).

Mental capacity – see below.

Mental disorder – ‘any disorder or disability of the mind’ (section 1).

Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 – the main Act of Parliament governing patients’ rights in psychiatric services. This has been amended by the Mental Health Act 2007.

Responsible Clinician (RC) – the approved clinician (see above) with overall responsibility for a person’s care and treatment in hospital.

Second Opinion Appointed Doctor (SOAD) – an independent doctor who may authorise treatment under the Mental Health Act 1983. 

Supervised community treatment – introduced by the MHA 2007, it allows a person who has been detained under certain sections of the MHA to be discharged back into the community under a Community Treatment Order, while complying with certain conditions.

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