Wednesday, 18 November 2020
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
Over the past few days, I have had two remarkably similar but distinct queries on next-of-kin, who is next-of-kin when a loved one is in hospital, their right to be informed and their right to information. One of the calls to me involved a spouse who believed he was entitled to know what was happening to his wife in hospital and the other was from a sister about her dependent sibling in hospital. In both cases, the hospitals were very reasonably following the instructions of the patient as to who had a right to be informed. To be fair, they had very impressive systems of allowing information to come to them so they could ensure that in making the decision of who will get the information the medical team was fully informed. This has brought to mind that there is a misunderstanding in people's minds about what next-of-kin is and what power next-of-kin has. In fact, they have none and there is no such thing really.
In 2018, Sage Advocacy carried out research that showed 70% of people believed next-of-kin was someone called in an emergency, 57% of people believed it was someone who can make a decision on medical treatment, 52% of people believed it was someone who can make a decision on life-support treatment and 32% believed it was someone who can have access to a person's bank account if that person cannot. These are very serious misunderstandings. While we await the commencement of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act it is important that people understand the role of power of attorney and enduring power of attorney and that people need to put in place these systems. There needs to be an understanding that just because someone is a relative, however close, even a spouse, it does not necessarily entitle them, particularly at this time when there is a lack of access to patients in hospitals. We need to have a discussion and statements on this.