Practices employed by South African healthcare providers to obtain consent for treatment from children

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Background:The ability to consent promotes children’s access to health services. Healthcare providers should assess and arrive at a clinical judgement about the child’s maturity and mental capacity to obtain valid consent.Research objective:The objective of the study was to determine practices employed by South African healthcare providers to obtain consent for treatment from children.Research design:A qualitative, explorative, descriptive research design was used and the study was contextual.Participants and research context:In all, 24 healthcare providers (professional nurses and medical practitioners) were purposively sampled from a hospital and primary health clinics. Semi-structured interviews were used.Ethical consideration:Ethical approval was obtained from the Institutional Review Board and gatekeepers. Written informed consent was obtained from each participant.Findings:Healthcare providers’ current practices in obtaining consent from children revealed inconsistency in implementation as well as the yardstick used to determine children’s mental capacity. Building trust with children, sharing information and assessment were interlinked in obtaining consent.Discussion:The inconsistent practice has implications for children’s access to healthcare services.Conclusion:Inconsistent practices in the implementation of consent laws have the potential to violate children’s rights to bodily and psychological integrity, access to health services and having their opinions heard and be taken into consideration. Through uncovering the current perceptions and practices and a literature review, guidelines intended for use by the Department of Health could be developed.

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