Consent to treatment

Explains your rights to consent to (or refuse) treatment, including what 'consent' means, when you can be treated without your consent, and how to make a complaint. Applies to England and Wales.

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Terms you need to know

Advance decision

An advance decision is a statement of instructions about what medical treatment you want to refuse in case you lose the capacity to make these decisions in the future. It is legally binding.

For more information see our pages on the Mental Capacity Act.

Advance statement

An advance statement is a written document that sets out your preferences (apart from refusals of treatment). It is not legally binding. You can ask a professional to follow this document if you ever lose capacity to make these decisions yourself.

For more information see our pages on the Mental Capacity Act.


An advocate is a person who can both listen to you and speak for you in times of need. Having an advocate can be helpful in situations where you are finding it difficult to make your views known, or to make people listen to them and take them into account.

For more information see our pages on advocacy.

Best interests

Health professionals must act in your best interests before taking certain steps that affect your care and treatment.

The Mental Capacity Act has a best interests checklist, which outlines what health professionals need to consider before taking an action or decision for you while you lack capacity.

For more information see our pages on the Mental Capacity Act.


'Capacity' means the ability to understand information and make decisions about your life. Sometimes it can also mean the ability to communicate decisions about your life.

For example, if you do not understand the information and are unable to make a decision about your treatment, you are said to 'lack capacity' to make decisions about your treatment.

For more information see our pages on the Mental Capacity Act.

Clinical negligence

A clinical negligence claim is when you make a claim for compensation because the care you received from a professional was not good enough and caused you harm.

Community treatment order (CTO)

If you've been sectioned and treated in hospital under certain sections, your responsible clinician can apply for you to be put on a CTO. This means that you can be discharged from the section and leave hospital, but you might have to meet certain conditions such as:

  • living in a certain place
  • going somewhere for medical treatment.

For more information see our pages on CTOs.


Consent is you agreeing with another person about an action that they’ve proposed.

The law says that consent is only valid if you:

  • have capacity to decide
  • have enough information to make that decision, and
  • give your consent freely.

Court of Protection

The Court of Protection makes decisions and appoints deputies to act on your behalf if you are unable to make decisions about your personal health, finance or welfare.

For more information see our pages on the Mental Capacity Act.

Judicial review

This is a type of court procedure where a judge reviews a public authority’s decision, policy, practice, act or failure to act, and decides whether it is lawful or not.

If it is not lawful, the court may cancel the decision or action (‘quash’ it), and require the public authority to reconsider it, lawfully. The court can order the authority to do or not do something.

Lasting power of attorney

A lasting power of attorney is a legal document that lets you appoint someone, called an attorney, to make decisions for you.

For more information see our pages on the Mental Capacity Act.

Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA)

This is a law that applies to England and Wales which allows people to be detained in hospital (sectioned) if they have a mental illness and need treatment. You can only be kept in hospital if certain conditions are met.

For more information see our pages on the Mental Health Act.

Responsible clinician (RC)

This is the approved clinician in charge of your care and treatment while you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Certain decisions, such as applying for someone who is sectioned to go onto a CTO, can only be taken by the responsible clinician. See our pages on CTOs for more information.

All responsible clinicians must be approved clinicians (AC). An AC could be a doctor, psychologist, nurse, occupational therapist or social worker.

Second opinion appointed doctor (SOAD)

This is a doctor who is called for a second opinion to decide whether they agree with your treatment if you are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983.

The Mental Health Act sets out when the hospital should get a second opinion.


Being 'sectioned' means that you are kept in hospital under the Mental Health Act. There are different types of sections, each with different rules to keep you in hospital. The length of time that you can be kept in hospital depends on which section you are detained under.

For more information see our pages on sectioning.

Voluntary patient (also known as an 'informal patient')

These are people who are staying in a psychiatric hospital but are not detained under the Mental Health Act. As a voluntary patient, you should be able to come and go from the hospital within reason and are able to discharge yourself if you decide to go home.

For more information, see our pages on voluntary patients.


This information was published in March 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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