• cognitive disabilities;
  • informed consent;
  • integrative review;
  • learning disabilities;
  • nursing


Title. Informed consent to healthcare interventions in people with learning disabilities – an integrative review.

Aim.  This paper is a report of an integrative review of informed consent to healthcare interventions in people with learning disabilities.

Background.  Consent to treatment lies at the heart of the relationship between patient and healthcare professional. In order for people with learning disabilities to have equity of access to health care, they need to be able to give informed consent to health interventions – or be assessed as incompetent to give consent.

Data sources.  The British Nursing Index (BNI), CINAHL, MEDLINE, Social Care Online, ERIC and ASSIA and PsycINFO databases were searched using the search terms: Consent or informed choice or capacity or consent to treat* or consent to examin* AND Learning disab* or intellectual* disab* or mental* retard* or learning difficult* or mental* handicap*. The search was limited to papers published in English from January 1990 to March 2007.

Review methods.  An integrative review was conducted and the data analysed thematically.

Results.  Twenty-two studies were reviewed. The main themes identified were: life experience, interaction between healthcare professionals and participants, ability to consent, and psychometric variables. A consensus seemed to emerge that capacity to consent is greater in people with higher cognitive ability and verbal skills, but that the attitudes and behaviour of healthcare professionals was also a crucial factor.

Conclusion.  The findings support use of the functional approach to assessing mental capacity for the purpose of obtaining informed consent. Future research into informed consent in people with learning disabilities is needed using real life situations rather than hypothetical vignettes.