Adults with Capacity

When a doctor intends to undertake any intervention a conscious patient must grant permission prior to examination, investigation and treatment. An intervention (including physical contact) undertaken without agreement/consent may constitutes a 'battery'. This underlying principal is as important in all aspects of anaesthetic and intensive care practice as it is for operative surgery (or any branch of medicine). While many general principles apply and must be understood, there is specific guidance relating directly to the provision of anaesthesia (see the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (AAGBI) consent for anaesthesia* guidance). Where the person subject to this contact is made fearful by it occurring it is technically possible that this can constitute an 'assault'. Assault is a rare charge in medical practice, and in practice the potential for an accusation of battery is more common.

To prevent a course of action being construed as a battery, a doctor should always provide a broad description of the activity they are about to undertake and seek agreement from the patient. This is also a responsibility within good medical practice. Documentation of this process is particularly important but in medical practice varies according to the perceived risk of the intervention.

For consent to be valid it must be:

  1. voluntary
  2. informed
  3. given by a competent patient with capacity.

Please see our Adult Definitions and Distinctions page for further information.


*This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made. Please cite all material as: ‘Source: AAGBI: Consent for anaesthesia 2017: Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland. Yentis SM, Hartle AJ, Barker IR, et al. Anaesthesia 2017; 72: 93-105.