How to Maintain Confidentiality in Health and Social Care

confidentiality in health and social care

We must trust that everything said to a doctor or a social worker will be held in the strictest confidence. If we don’t have this trust, we might not share important information about our health. Maintaining confidentiality in health and social care is crucial. Without it, caregivers can’t develop trusting and lasting relationships with their patients.

Suppose you are employed in the health and social care sectors. In that case, you must know the importance of maintaining confidentiality and keeping people’s information confidential. To ensure you know your responsibilities, we’ve compiled this short article on confidentiality in health and social care.

What is Confidentiality in Healthcare?

Confidentiality can be defined as respecting a person’s wishes by keeping sensitive personal information about them from becoming public.

Suppose a patient shares information with a professional like a doctor, nurse, social worker, or support worker – that information must be kept confidential. It can’t be shared with anyone who doesn’t have a professional need to know unless the patient has given their express consent. Confidentiality also applies to any digital records or written notes that have been made.

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Why is Confidentiality Important in Health and Social Care?

We all have embarrassing details about our lives that we want to keep to ourselves. You might be fond of an 80s sitcom or have a bad habit of snacking on leftovers in the middle of the night. You might like to spend your free time painting miniatures or reading romance novels. Whatever it is, you probably wouldn’t want that information getting out.

And when it comes to embarrassing information, no one knows more about us than healthcare providers and social care workers. Most likely, you wouldn’t want the details of your last visit to the doctor or a meeting with a social worker to be made public. We must trust healthcare and social care professionals to keep our information secret. This expectation of confidentiality in health and social care forms the foundation of the caregiver/patient relationship.

There can be severe consequences for patients if confidentiality is breached. A person may face social stigma if their medical condition becomes known to the community. If a patient doesn’t trust that their healthcare provider will maintain confidentiality, then they may not provide them with crucial details about their health. This can lead to a misdiagnosis that results in a person not getting the care they need.

Maintaining confidentiality in health and social care situations is also a legal requirement. By law, healthcare workers have to protect the sensitive personal information of their patients.

why confidentiality important health social care

How to Maintain Confidentiality in Healthcare

Confidentiality is essential for healthcare workers, but it’s not always clear-cut. There are situations when professionals have to maintain confidentiality. Then, there are exceptions where confidentiality duties may have to be waived to protect people’s safety.

Healthcare workers and those in the social care sector must maintain confidentiality about any information relating to:

  • A person’s relationships or family
  • Details of their health or medical condition
  • Personal details such as their name, age, address, banking information and so on

Only in certain circumstances can a professional break their duty of confidentiality. A professional can breach confidentiality if they believe that doing so will protect the person in question from harm or protect another person or the general public from harm.

Consent should be obtained from the person in question, if possible. It’s not always possible to obtain consent, however. In some cases, confidentiality must be breached against a person’s wishes.

An example of where a professional may need to break confidentiality is in cases of domestic violence. A social worker may need to inform the police to keep the victim safe. Another example could be where a doctor may need to notify authorities about a patient who has a rare and highly contagious disease. In both cases, consent may be given, or the professional may have to override the person’s wishes.

maintain confidentiality in healthcare

Sharing a person’s private information with or without their consent is a serious matter. Professionals need to use their judgment and consider each case on its own merits. It’s always a good idea to seek advice from a superior before breaching confidentiality. If you have to share private information about a person, keep records of your actions, inform your superiors, and stay involved to keep the person from harm.

The Five Rules of Confidentiality

Maintaining confidentiality can be a tricky business. Luckily, some exceptionally clever people at the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) compiled a guide for preserving confidentiality in health and social care. In 2013, the HSCIC developed five confidentiality rules, still considered best practices today.

The five HSCIC rules about confidentiality in health and social care are:

  1. Confidential information about service users or patients should be treated confidentially and respectfully
  2. Members of a care team should share confidential information when it is needed for the safe and effective care of an individual
  3. Information that is shared for the benefit of the community should be anonymised
  4. An individual’s right to object to the sharing of confidential information about them should be respected
  5. Organisations should put policies, procedures and systems in place to ensure that confidentiality rules are followed

Important Confidentiality Policy in Health and Social Care

Maintaining confidentiality isn’t just a matter of being a decent person. It’s also the law. And breaking the law has some pretty nasty consequences. Below is some primary legislation that applies to keeping people’s information confidential.

The Common Law of Confidentiality

The main principle of the Common Law of Confidentiality is that a person’s details should not be disclosed or used unless the person has given their express consent. Common law confidentiality can, however, be overridden by cases involving a person’s safety, the safety of the public at large or in the public interest.

The Human Rights Act 1998

Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998 mandates that people have the right to keep details about their private life, family life, correspondence and homes confidential.

Again, this right can be overridden if the authorities can prove that such an action is required to protect the public or national security, prevent crime or protect the safety of the person in question or others.

The Care Act 2014

Employers must also provide PPE and instruct workers on its proper use if required. It’s also necessary for employers to replace or repair any PPE in poor condition.

The Care Act 2014 provides guidance on situations where caregivers may have to breach confidentiality. The Act states that in cases where privacy is breached, a written report that provides details of the justification must be made and, where possible, the consent of the individual in question should be acquired.

The Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act 2015

The Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act 2015 covers how people in the UK healthcare sector and social care services share patient information with other healthcare professionals. It also guides how patients’ data should be integrated into health and social care systems.

The Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR

Sensitive personal information is collected digitally and given verbally or written down. The Data Protection Act and the GDPR set out how organisations, charities and businesses must collect, store, and process personal data.

The Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR mandate that personal data must be:

  • Processed in a lawful, transparent and fair manner
  • Collected and kept only for legitimate, specified and explicit purposes
  • Be accurate and up-to-date
  • Limited to what is necessary
  • Kept only for as long as necessary
  • Processed with appropriate security measures in place

Online Training for Health and Social Care Professionals

Healthcare and social care workers have serious responsibilities when it comes to confidentiality. Health and safety courses can give you the skills to act in the best interests of your patients.

You can enhance your professional knowledge with our health and safety training courses. All courses are accredited and can be taken online at your convenience.

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