Informed consent, Montgomery and the duty to discuss alternative treatments in England and Australia

Informed consent, Montgomery and the duty to discuss alternative treatments in England and Australia
Research Article
Tracey Carver
Journal of Patient Safety and Risk Management, 9 September 2020
The UK Supreme Court in Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board imposes a duty on healthcare professionals in relation to information disclosure. The obligation is to take reasonable care to ensure that patients are aware, not just of material risks inherent in any recommended treatment, but of any reasonable alternative treatments. While liability for information non-provision was previously decided according to whether the profession would deem disclosure appropriate, the law now judges the sufficiency of information from a patient’s perspective. In doing so, it adopts the approach advocated for Australia in Rogers v Whitaker. However, commentators, in this journal and elsewhere, have expressed concern that the disclosure obligation is unclear. Although Montgomery defines what is ‘material’ for the purpose of identifying notifiable treatment risks, it offers less guidance as to when alternative treatments will be sufficiently ‘reasonable’ to warrant disclosure. Through an analysis of Australian and UK case law and examples, this article considers the ambit of a practitioner’s duty to discuss alternatives. It concludes that although likely subject to further litigation, the identification of reasonable treatment options requiring disclosure will be influenced by the patient’s clinical condition, their prognosis and viable options from a medical perspective, and various non-clinical matters influenced by the test of materiality.

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