BMA guidance

Seeking patient consent toolkit

When and how to seek consent for treatment and research, ethical and legal principles that apply and common misconceptions surrounding consent.

Location: UK
Audience: All doctors
Updated: Tuesday 8 September 2020
Topics: Ethics
Justice scales article illustration

What you'll get from this guide

  • Guidance on when, how and by whom consent for treatment or research should be sought.

  • An understanding of how to ensure that the consent obtained is valid.

  • Information about how to respond when patients refuse consent.


How to use this guide

​​This guidance will provide you with the key legal and ethical considerations you need to take into account when seeking consent for treatment or research, and signposts to other sources of support and information.

It is not a set of rules or instructions, or a substitute for careful reflection and discussion with colleagues. You can seek additional advice on specific dilemmas from the BMA’s medical ethics and human rights department, the GMC, or your medical defence organisation.


  • Key questions about consent and refusal
  • Capacity to consent
  • Sharing information with patients
  • Who is responsible for seeking consent?
  • Refusal of consent
  • Advance care planning
  • Consent for emergency treatment
  • Compulsory treatment under mental health legislation
  • Consent for research
  • Consent for teaching purposes
  • Further reading