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New guidance on patient consent for anaesthesia

The AAGBI – the professional membership organisation representing over 11,000 anaesthetists in the UK and Ireland – first published guidance on consent for anaesthesia in 1999, revising it in 2006.

Its latest 2017 revision incorporates recent case law and other changes in the legal system, providing guidance and advice to anaesthetists about consent before anaesthesia, whilst recognising the differences between the legal frameworks in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Taking over a year to develop, the new guidance has had legal, medical and lay input, and has undergone extensive consultation within the UK and Ireland. The new guidance addresses the particular difficulties faced by anaesthetists compared with other doctors.

The need to ensure that patients give consent before they receive treatment is a basic principle of modern healthcare. Patients will be familiar with the need to give consent before surgery, and the requirement in most circumstances to sign a consent form before the operation can go ahead.

However, the situation for anaesthesia is more difficult. This is because anaesthesia enables surgical procedures to happen but is almost always not a ‘treatment’ in itself. Also, anaesthetists rarely have access to patients for detailed discussions far in advance of the surgery itself, and for any one operation there may be many subtly different ways in which anaesthesia can be provided.

It is therefore not always clear how much of each anaesthetic technique (which may involve many components) needs to be discussed beforehand.

The AAGBI’s new guidance on patient consent for anaesthesia will be launched today at the AAGBI’s Winter Scientific Meeting 2017 in Westminster, London, the organisation’s flagship educational event, with over 1000 delegates attending.

It is also published ‘Open Access’ (i.e. free to download) in Anaesthesia, one of the world’s leading anaesthetic journals, ensuring widespread circulation amongst healthcare professionals and others worldwide.

The new AAGBI guidance on consent for anaesthesia can be accessed here.

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