Dental professionals must ensure patients are aware of material risks and of any alternative treatments when obtaining consent.
The warnings come after a recent Supreme Court ruling, in the case Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board, which introduced a new approach of informed patient consent for the first time in negligence law.
The decision concerned a medical claim, but the principle is also likely to apply in dental cases where there is a similar obligation to obtain consent for treatment.
‘The Supreme Court justified its decision on the basis of the change in the nature of the clinician/patient relationship,’ Rupert Hoppenbrouwers, head of the DDU, said.
‘The new legal approach recognises that patients want to be well-informed about significant risks and reasonable alternative treatments.
‘However, the need to discuss these risks with patients during the consent process is already enshrined in ethical guidance and the Supreme Court judgement reflects the approach to sharing information with patients in the GDC’s (General Dental Council’s) Standards for the Dental Team.’
Clinicians must now consider whether a person in the patient’s position would attach significance to the risk, or should reasonably be aware that the patient would be likely to attach significance to it.
This supersedes the previous test that a clinician would not be negligent if the information given to a patient about a treatment or procedure was compatible with that which would be given by a responsible body of medical opinion, provided the standard was considered reasonable by a court.
‘Dental professionals will already be aware of the ethical need to warn patients about material risks but as a result of the judgement, making a detailed record of the information provided to the patient about the risks involved in proposed treatment is likely to be even more important,’ Rupert continued.
‘While the new legal approach applies to cases of alleged negligent failure to inform about treatment risk, it does not apply to negligence actions more widely.’