We must do better on informed consent

23 May 2022

The Health and Disability Commissioner is deeply concerned about the findings of a study of medical students’ experiences of informed consent in patients’ treatment.

The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, showed serious lapses in obtaining informed consent by medical students for sensitive examinations.

Morag McDowell, Health and Disability Commissioner says she is very disappointed this issue is continuing, noting the same issue was raised in a 2016 study.

“I will be raising this matter directly with Health New Zealand, DHBs and medical schools to reinforce message that informed consent is at the heart of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights. I will also be asking what actions will be taken in response to the study’s findings.”

“Patients should be asked about the involvement of medical students in their care and their right to informed consent. Any unconsented sensitive examination is a clear breach of a patient’s rights.”

Ms McDowell says a lack of clinical and ethical leadership is a system failure. 

“These students have not been supported. Leadership from senior doctors and nurses must be shown in rectifying this.”

 “This requires positive and ethical role modelling, and students must feel empowered to question any examination if a patient has not given informed consent.” 

“I will be paying particular attention to people’s concerns as they raise them, and I encourage anyone who has knowledge of, or is concerned about sensitive examinations having taken place without informed consent to report their concerns to my office directly at 0800 11 22 33 or to make a complaint at www.hdc.org.nz.”


Notes for Editors

  • The study was informed by a 2019 survey of 93 final year students at the University of Auckland Medical School. It found students were not always compliant with informed consent guidance across a range sensitive examinations of unconscious and conscious patients.
  • Factors identified in the reasons included students and supervisors lacking awareness of policies, or hierarchical structures making it difficult to challenge informed consent not being sought.
For more information about our complaints process, or the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers' Rights, go to www.hdc.org.nz.