Patient consent to photography should be treated in the same way as consent to other medical treatments and interventions. The Code of Professional Conduct for Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors states that you must ‘obtain consent before you give any treatment or care’ (NMC, 2016). Local Trust policy relating to patient consent must be followed.

The Declaration of Helsinki states that the subject of a photograph has the right to withdraw their consent even after having signed the consent form. There are three levels of consent, depending on the intended use of the photographs and the level of consent the subject is willing to sign.

  • Level 1: Confidential Record - the photographs will only be used in medical records.
  • Level 2: Confidential Record and Teaching - the photographs may be used for education without disclosure of personal information.
  • Level 3: Confidential Record, Teaching and Publication - for publication purposes, the subject will need to sign for consent. Photographs will not be published unless this level of consent has been signed.

(Hampton, 2016; IMI, 2019)

Good practice dictates that consent for publication should only be obtained for a single specific use.

Patient’s must also be made aware that they are free to withdraw their consent at any time. However, the patient should be made aware that once published, consent cannot be withdrawn as these images are then in the public domain.

There is one exception to this principle:

‘Photographic and video recordings, made for treating or assessing a patient and from which there is no possibility that the patient might be recognised, may be used within the clinical setting for education or research purposes without express consent from the patient, as long as this policy is well publicised. However, express consent must be sought for any form of publication.’ (Department of Health, 2001)

In relation to using photography for publication, education or research, it states the following;

‘If you use such a recording for education, publication or research purposes, you must seek consent in writing, ensuring that the person giving consent is fully aware of the possible uses of the material. In particular, the person must be made aware that you may not be able to control future use of the material once it has been placed in the public domain. If a child is not willing for a recording to be used, you must not use it, even if a person with parental responsibility consents.’ (Department of Health, 2001)

The individual practitioner must ensure that when a patient gives consent, they have been given all of the information necessary to make an informed choice. They are then able to give informed consent.