Consent from children and young people 

People aged 16 or over are entitled to consent to their own treatment, and this can only be overruled in exceptional circumstances.

Like adults, young people (aged 16 or 17) are presumed to have sufficient capacity to decide on their own medical treatment, unless there is significant evidence to suggest otherwise.

Children under the age of 16 are presumed to lack capacity, but can consent to their own treatment if it is thought that they have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what is involved in their treatment. Otherwise, someone with "parental responsibility" can consent for them.

When their consent can be overruled

If a young person refuses treatment, and by doing so this may lead to their death or a severe permanent injury, their decision can be overruled by the Court of Protection. This is the legal body that oversees the operation of the Mental Capacity Act (2005).

The parents of a young person who has refused treatment may consent for them, but it is usually thought best to go through the courts in such situations.

Parental responsibility

If a child who is under 16 does not have the capacity to consent, someone with parental responsibility can consent for them, but that person must have the capacity to give consent.

If a parent refuses to give consent to a particular treatment, this decision can be overruled by the courts if treatment is thought to be in the best interests of the child.

If one person with parental responsibility gives consent and another does not, the healthcare professionals can choose to accept the consent and perform the treatment in most cases. If the people with parental responsibility disagree about what is in the child’s best interests, the courts can make a decision.

In an emergency, where treatment is vital, and waiting to obtain parental consent would place the child at risk, treatment can proceed without consent (see when consent isn't needed for more information).

Who has parental responsibility?

A person with parental responsibility for a child could be:

  • the child’s mother or father
  • the child’s legally appointed guardian
  • a person with a residence order concerning the child
  • a local authority designated to care for the child
  • a local authority or person with an emergency protection order for the child

Page last reviewed: 03/06/2014

Next review due: 03/06/2016