Anne Caley: Patient consent

The first press event I attended as a BMJ Clegg Scholar was the launch of the General Medical Council’s new guidance for doctors ‘Consent: patients and doctors making decisions together,’ at the National Theatre, London, so it was no surprise that a short play (commissioned by the GMC) was performed to reflect the situations influencing the need for new guidance. 

The aptly named ‘Forecast:Fog’ presented the dilemma doctors, patients and carers face with regards to gaining consent from patients who have a fluctuating cognitive state.

The main character was an Alzheimer’s patient who also required a cholecystectomy. The play outlined his journey from primary care to admission as in-patient (via A&E) and highlighted the difficulties experienced in getting consent from the patient (as well as the frustrations experienced by the patient, carer and the doctors themselves).  

It was a very moving and unfortunately accurate portrayal of events which I had witnessed on my recent clinical placements. The scenes identifying the appalling way in which patients can be dismissed and/or ignored or spoken to SLOWLY and LOUDLY were cringingly familiar.

What was of particular interest, however, was feedback from the audience. As well as doctors, members of the health press, consisted of Alzheimer sufferers and their carers there. 

The performance concluded with a consultant being ‘volunteered’ to show how he felt a consultation should be carried out.   He handled the pressure fantastically well, especially when, during a particularly ‘sensitive’ moment in the dialogue – his bleep went off.

Have your say on the blog. Alternatively read the BMJ editorial on the new guidance:
Patient consent—decision or assumption?