Practice Standards set out requirements related to specific aspects of nurses' practice. They link with other standards, policies and bylaws of the BC College of Nursing Professionals and all legislation relevant to nursing practice.
Nurses1 have both legal and ethical obligations regarding consent2 for proposed care, treatment and research. Consent is the voluntary agreement to some act or purpose made by a capable individual. The conditions for consent include:
In British Columbia, the legal obligations concerning consent are imposed by legislation, which limits and directs nurses' practice in relation to consent.3The Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act and the Infants Act are key statutes. Other relevant legislation may include the following acts and regulations:
The ethical obligations of nurses are to recognize, respect and promote the client's right to be informed and make informed choices.
Employers are responsible for providing necessary systems and supports to enable nurses to meet consent requirements.
Nurses respect clients' rights to make decisions about the management of their own health care. The giving or refusing of consent to care, treatment or research is fundamental to this decision-making process.
Nurses know what legislation applies to their practice and follow legislated requirements.
Nurses determine the client's capacity to give consent. If necessary, nurses identify the person who is authorized and able to make health care decisions on the client's behalf.
Nurses obtain consent prior to carrying out care, treatment or research unless legislation dispenses with consent. Nurses are responsible for obtaining consent for care or treatment they carry out (e.g., taking blood pressure, starting an intravenous). It is not appropriate for nurses to take responsibility for obtaining consent for care or treatment provided by another health professional (e.g., surgery, anesthesia).
Nurses provide clients and substitute decision-makers with the information that a reasonable person would require in order to make a decision about proposed health care. This includes information about:
The information is sufficient, specific and evidence-based.
Nurses provide information in a timely and appropriate manner, taking into account the individual's abilities, age, culture, language and preferences. Nurses give clients and substitute decision-makers an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers.
Nurses recognize that consent may be given verbally, in writing, through an alternative communication system (e.g., computer assisted) or through behaviour that implies consent (e.g., client rolls up sleeve when nurse reaches for blood pressure cuff).
Nurses do not use coercion, fraud or misrepresentation in the consent process. Nurses are sensitive to the difference in power between health professionals and clients and do not misuse that power to influence clients' decision making.
Nurses respect the right of clients and substitute decision-makers to seek further information or another opinion and to involve others in the decision-making and consent process.
In very limited circumstances, nurses base their decision about a client's health care on what is in the best interests of that client, as they can best determine and in consultation with others. This occurs only when all of the following conditions apply:
Nurses respect the right of clients and substitute decision-makers to refuse or withdraw consent at any time and for any reason, provided they are capable of doing so and there is no legislation that removes that right. Nurses help clients understand that they have the right to refuse or withdraw consent.
Nurses who participate in the delivery of care or treatment by other health professionals:
Nurses tell clients about any care, treatment or research before it is undertaken, regardless of a client's capacity to give consent.
Nurses document the consent process, as well as a refusal or withdrawal of consent.
Nurses take action if they have any concerns related to consent.
The Consent Process
Effective communication is essential to ensure that your client's decisions about his or her own health care are understood, expressed and respected by everyone involved. Strengthen your communication by giving explanations in ways best understood by the client and by using a combination of strategies. These might include:
Communication and decision-making about health care is often an ongoing process. While clients may consent to an initial plan for care, you should re-establish consent if, for example, you believe your client may be reconsidering the decision or if you are contemplating changes to the plan.
Identify which legislation applies to your practice. In B.C., the Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act and the Infants Act are key statutes.
The Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act outlines: the scope and elements of consent; the requirement for nurses and other health care professionals to seek consent for care, treatment and research; how consent is obtained; and some of the exceptions to the consent requirements.
The Infants Act deals with consent for clients under 19 years of age. This Act uses the term "infant" to describe all minors, but it provides rules to determine who qualifies as "mature" minors and who are, therefore, entitled to give consent to their own health care.
In some specific circumstances, the usual requirements related to consent may not apply. In this case, identify legislation relevant to your practice setting. Legislation may include the Human Tissue Gift Act, the Mental Health Act, and the Public Health Act.
Know your organization's policies about any relevant legislation related to consent. When policies are inadequate or inappropriate, participate in refining and strengthening them.
If you are involved in care or treatment that is being provided by another health professional (e.g., surgery), make sure that your client has given consent and check that he or she has sufficient information and understanding of the proposed care or treatment. If your client does not, help him or her understand information that has been provided by the other health professional or, if necessary, support your client in getting more information.
If you are establishing a plan for nursing care that will be carried out by a team, ask the client or substitute decision-maker to consent to the overall plan for nursing care. This overall consent makes it easier to perform those repetitive aspects of care that the nursing team routinely carries out.
When clients have a reduced capacity for decision-making, support them to participate in making decisions that are within their capacity.
If you have any concerns about consent, you are obligated to take appropriate action. Taking action can include:
Advance directive: A consent or a refusal in advance of the need for health care arising that complies with the requirements of the Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act.
Consent: The voluntary agreement to some act or purpose made by a capable individual. The conditions for consent include the following:
Substitute decision-maker: The parent or guardian of a child who is not a mature minor, a temporary substitute decision-maker for an adult, a court-appointed committee of a person or a representative who, under a representation agreement, is authorized to make the particular health care decision.
Standards of Practice
BCCNP's Standards of Practice (Professional Standards, Practice Standards, and Scope of Practice Standards) set out requirements for practice that nurses must meet. They are available from the Nursing Standards section
Information to help nurses and others interpret and implement relevant legislation
Information about the ethical conduct of research
"Nurse" refers to BCCNP practising registrants.
Terms defined in the Glossary are highlighted in bold type the first time they appear.
This practice standard does not address restraint use. The Residential Care Regulation under the Community Care and Assisted Living Act sets out requirements for the use of restraints.
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For further information on the Standards of Practice or professional practice matters, contact us: