Treating Children and Disclosing Information to Parents


If a child is under 12 years old or NOT capable of consenting (to being seen by a doctor, nurse or receiving treatment) themselves, it is vital that we have the CONSENT of a person with PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY (usually a signed note or letter).

Examples of this would be when a child is brought to the surgery by a grandparent, nanny or sibling).

In an emergency, where treatment is vital and waiting to obtain parental consent would place the child at risk, treatment can proceed without consent.

Gillick Competence

This is a term used in medical law to decide whether a child (16 years or younger) is able to consent to his or her own medical treatment, without the need for parental permission or knowledge.

What does this mean in practice?

  • Children under 16 years old can consent to medical treatment if they understand what is being proposed. It is up to the doctor to decide whether the child has the maturity and the intelligence to fully understand the nature of the treatment, the options, risks and benefits.

A child who has such understanding is considered Gillick competent. The parents cannot overrule the child’s consent when the child is judged to be Gillick competent.

Eg. A 15 year old Gillick competent boy can consent to receiving tetanus immunization even if his parents do not agree.

  • Aged 16 and 17 years. A child having reached the age of 16 years can consent to investigation or treatment and cannot be overruled by anyone with parental responsibility (but can be overridden by the Court).
  • Once a person reaches their 18th birthday they are assumed to be a competent adult.
  • 12 years old is deemed to be about the age when a child can be assessed for competency (Gillick competency).
  • If a child is deemed to be competent, then they have the same rights to confidentiality as an adult. In practice this means information cannot be given to someone with parental responsibility eg whether they have attended the surgery, what the consultation was about, unless consent has been given by the child.
  • A doctor or nurse will always ask the child if someone with parental responsibility knows they have attended and if they have consent to speak to a parent.
  • On many occasions the reason a child has attended alone is often for straightforward reasons, eg parent looking after sibling, a simple problem that a parent thought child could attend by themselves etc. However, even though a child, if the child is deemed Gillick competent, then the child has the same rights as an adult to confidentiality. If the child therefore does not wish a parent to know of their attendance or reason for the attendance, then the health professional is bound by the law not to disclose this information.
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