Expert advice

Medicines management: Can I hide medication in a patient’s food? 

Health professionals do not have the right to administer medication to patients against their will or in a covert manner. If a patient is refusing to take medication, find out why and try and negotiate with them, says medicines management expert Matt Griffiths

Health professionals do not have the right to administer medication to patients against their will or in a covert manner. If a patient is refusing to take medication, find out why and try and negotiate with them, says medicines management expert Matt Griffiths


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Disguising medication in food or drink is not considered best practice by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), whose standards for medicines management say: ‘As a general principle, by disguising medication in food or drink, the patient or client is being led to believe they are not receiving medication, when in fact they are.’

The NMC also says, ‘the registrant would need to be sure what they are doing is in the best interests of the patient’. It adds that they are accountable for this decision.

Unconscious patients

In the case of unconscious patients, such as those admitted to intensive care as an emergency, medications can be given to them under common law as being in their ‘best interests’. In these cases, it is highly unlikely that the patient will have been able to give their consent prior to any medication or treatment being started, but the ‘best interest’ principles apply because clinicians are trying to save the patient’s life.

These principles are also generally upheld where there is enough evidence to suggest that the person is not competent to refuse the medication. This includes patients who are conscious but confused, and are not deemed to have the capacity to make decisions about their care under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

Talking to them may help

When administering medication to a patient, the patient should, where possible, be involved in the decision-making process. In patients who are conscious and are not confused, for example, we can usually negotiate with them about what medications they are willing or unwilling to take.

If a patient is experiencing side effects from a medication which is making them reluctant to take it, for example, talking to them about this may help you come to an agreement.

Just because we think that a medicine will improve someone’s health, it doesn’t give us the right to administer it to them against their will or in a covert manner.


Matt Griffiths is visiting professor of prescribing and medicines management at Birmingham City University 

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