Rights to medical treatment

Your right to consent and confidentiality when receiving medical treatment

Girl talking to her doctor

You have a right to change doctors if you don't like them

When can I see a doctor on my own?

At any time, or any age – and you don’t have to tell your parents.

If you’re under 16, you will still be offered confidential treatment by your doctor, as long as they are sure that you are ‘capable of consenting’. This means you’re able to understand the options and you’re not being forced or pushed into a particular treatment or choice (like having an abortion) by somebody else.

You can get confidential sexual health advice and treatment, so long as the healthcare professional or service is willing to provide it. Government guidelines request that all healthcare professionals (such as your doctor) clearly advertise their confidentiality policy, and suggest alternative local services if they’re unwilling to provide such services.

Can I choose my own doctor?

Not until you’re 16, when you can also ask to switch from one GP to another. However, if there are multiple GPs in one practice you can normally ask to be seen by someone else, for example if you’re female and would prefer to see a female doctor about a specific issue.

Can I be sure that I’ll be treated in confidence?

Everything that you share with your GP should be kept private, even if you’re under 16. However, there are circumstances when they may be obliged to break this agreement. This is if you are believed to be in danger of abuse or injury, or if you’re putting your life at risk by refusing treatment. In this situation, the doctor may inform Social Services, who will then act to make your welfare a priority.

How about getting hold of the contraceptive pill?

A doctor can choose to prescribe the contraceptive pill to a girl who is under 16, providing they feel confident that you understand the implications and consequences. They may also chat to you about the importance of using condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections.

By law, doctors should encourage under 16s to inform their parents, even if they go on to prescribe the pill without parental knowledge or consent because the young person does not wish to involve them. These principles also apply to pregnancy termination.

Is it possible to refuse medical treatment?

If you’re under 18, you have a right to refuse any recommended treatment, but if your refusal threatens your life then your parents will be told and asked for their consent to treat you against your will. At 18 or over, you can legally refuse, but your decision could be over-ruled in court if, for example, your refusal threatens your life.

What if I want to change doctors?

You have the right to change your doctor and surgery without giving a reason, however it may be helpful to let them know you are leaving for administrative purposes.

Photo of girl talking to doctor by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Brook provides free sexual health and wellbeing services for young people in the UK. Brook's services include local clinics and online digital sex and relationships tool.
  • You can visit NHS Choices for more information. You can get quick advice when it's not an emergency on 111.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


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Updated on 29-Sep-2015