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The patient who refuses nursing care
  1. H Aveyard
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr H Aveyard
 School of Health and Social Care, Oxford Brookes University, Academic Level 4, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headley Way, Oxford, OX3 9DU;


Objectives: The aim of this paper is to examine the way in which nurses manage patients who refuse nursing care procedures.

Design: This paper reports on a qualitative study which was undertaken to explore the way in which nurses obtain consent prior to nursing care procedures. Focus groups were carried out to obtain background data concerning how consent is obtained. Critical incidents were collected through in depth interviews as a means of focusing on specific incidents in clinical practice.

Setting: Two teaching hospitals in England.

Participants: Purposive sample of qualified nurses.

Results: When a patient refuses nursing care, nurses respond by giving information until the patient finally accedes to the procedure. Nurses will go to great lengths to achieve patients’ agreement to the procedure, but the extent to which the agreement remains voluntary cannot be ascertained by the data collected in this study. If the patient does not eventually agree to a procedure, there is evidence that nurses will administer the care in the absence of consent.

Conclusions: Nurses are concerned to obtain the patient’s consent prior to the administration of nursing care but if this cannot be achieved do not regard obtaining consent as an absolute requirement. Consent is preferred, but not considered essential. Nurses have some understanding of the principles of informed consent but do not apply them to everyday clinical nursing practice.

  • Informed consent
  • refusal of care
  • nursing care procedures

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  • The paper forms part of the author’s PhD for which financial support was given by the Society for the Furtherance of Critical Philosophy.

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