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Posted on 23/10/2018

Confidentiality in health and social care: how is it ensured?

Confidentiality in the context of health and social care intrinsically means not disclosing information about a client to anyone who should not know, or does not need to know.

Health and social care providers are given extensive training regarding what is appropriate, but to outsiders it can be difficult to know what legislation is in place and how it is implemented.

It is of course vital to protect the rights of client where appropriate, but health and social care workers and clients alike should bear in mind that a carer’s duty to share information – where required – is of equal importance.

Confidentiality legislation in health and social care

There are five rules of confidentiality in health and social care:

  1. All confidential information about a client should be treated respectfully and their rights to confidentiality should be respected at all times
  2. Confidential information about a client should be shared by a care team only when it is necessary for the safety and wellbeing of the client
  3. Any confidential information shared for the benefit of a community should remain anonymous
  4. An individual has the right to object to their confidential information being shared. This right should always be respected
  5. It is an organisation’s responsibility to implement confidentiality policies with any procedures necessary to ensure this confidentiality

The 2013 HSCIC Guide to Confidentiality provides detailed information on navigating the complexities of confidentiality legislation as a health and social care worker.

When can you break confidentiality in health and social care?

There is no absolute confidentiality in health and social care. This is due to the fact that breaking confidentiality is sometimes in the best interests of the client, or in the best interests of another party whose needs are more important than those of the client in the present situation.

For example, health and social care practitioners may need to discuss a client’s symptoms with a fellow practitioner in order to ensure that they receive optimum support. This includes referring a client to another service which may be better suited to their needs.

Care workers can also break confidentiality if they suspect an individual is going to seriously harm themselves or someone else. This does not generally include self-harm or drug use unless the practitioner thinks that the client might harm themselves in a life-threatening way by mistake, or the client does not have full mental capacity.

Another situation in which it is appropriate for a care worker to break confidentiality is if they suspect that their client is going to commit a criminal act – this is a rule of health and social care practice with which many people are familiar. Again, this does not typically refer to drug use unless the individual in question is supplying.

In extreme situations a health and social care worker may also need to reveal information about their client in court if called upon to do so.

At ENA our team are experts in confidentiality in health and social care. If you need any help or advice on matters of confidentiality, or about our specialist care services, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to advise you.