The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has updated its supporting guidance for veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses on informed consent, with more advice on discussing informed consent with clients and who is responsible for seeking consent.

The Codes of Professional Conduct for both veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses stress the need for effective communication with clients and ensuring that informed consent is obtained and documented before treatments or procedures are carried out.

At its January meeting RCVS Standards Committee approved changes to chapter 11 (‘Communication and consent’) of the supporting guidance to the Codes to provide further advice to the professions on matters that should be discussed with clients to ensure informed consent is gained, provide clarification on who can gain consent for a procedure and give some additional guidance on consent forms.

Nick Oldham, Standards and Advisory Manager at the RCVS, said: “We hope that this updated guidance is more accessible, readable and will aid members of the profession in developing a more comprehensive approach to gaining informed consent for treatments and procedures and therefore reduce the risk of miscommunication and misunderstanding which can lead to concerns being raised by clients.  

“For example, we have updated our guidance to encourage veterinary surgeons to consider discussing a number of additional factors with a client before obtaining consent. This includes the nature, purpose and benefits of any treatment or procedures, the likely outcomes including potential risks, financial estimates, informing the client when other treatments may have available and checking that the client understands what they are agreeing to rather than assuming the client understands both the potential financial outlay and possible side effects.

“Furthermore, there is now additional guidance for veterinary surgeons on who should be seeking consent. While ordinarily it is expected that the veterinary surgeon undertaking the procedure or providing treatment is responsible for obtaining the client’s consent we know that this is not always practical. 

“Therefore we clarify that the responsibility of obtaining consent can be delegated to another veterinary surgeon and, failing that, a registered veterinary nurse or student veterinary nurse could obtain consent provided that they are suitably trained, have sufficient knowledge of the proposed procedure or treatment and understand the risks involved. 

“The RCVS Standards and Advice Team is also in the process of producing a series of fictional case studies based on informed consent issues encountered by the College’s Preliminary Investigation Committee which we hope will further help the profession.”

The updated supporting guidance can be found in full at www.rcvs.org.uk/consent 

The Code of Professional Conduct and its supporting guidance can also be downloaded as an app for smartphones and tablets at www.rcvs.org.uk/codeapp 

Members of the profession seeking confidential advice on matters relating to professional conduct can contact the Standards and Advice Team on 020 7202 0789 or advice@rcvs.org.uk