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Describe situations where information normally considered to be confidential might need to be passed on

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

Although we should always respect the privacy of the individuals we support by keeping their personal information private, there may be times when it is necessary to pass information that is usually considered confidential onto others.

If a new member of support staff will be working with an individual, it will be necessary to share information with them so that they are able to carry out their work correctly. Usually, you would ask for consent from the individual first.

In some cases it is right and correct to pass information on without the individual’s consent, however.

If the individual or somebody else is likely to come to serious harm from not disclosing information or there is the potential for a serious crime to be committed then it is prudent to break confidentiality.

Similarly, if an individual discloses that they have been abused or you have suspicions that abuse has taken place, this information must be passed on to the relevant person(s).

When information is shared in this manner, it can result in tension between an individual and the professional that has made the disclosure. The individual may feel betrayed and it may make them wary about opening up in the future. The professional should be sympathetic to the individual but explain that they have a duty of care to share information to protect the individual and others. A professional should never say that they will keep a secret and explain that in certain circumstances it is their responsibility to pass on information. This should be explained from the outset.

If an individual is unable to communicate with others (for example, if they are unconscious) you do not need their consent to pass on personal information that could potentially save their lives to paramedics or doctors. You can assume implied consent.

Judicial agencies such as the crown court can demand information in relation to a case and you must comply with their request.

Example question and answer

You are a social care worker and a service user, Hannah, tells you that she is unhappy taking her new medication.  She thinks she does not need it and so she is throwing it away. You know from her care plan that Hannah does need to take the take the medication regularly and gets confused. Hannah begs you to keep this confidential and not tell anyone especially her daughter, who she sees regularly, as her daughter will be very angry.

Describe the possible tensions that may arise between telling others of Hannah’s decision and keeping this information totally confidential

Hannah may be upset with me for breaking confidentiality, resulting in her being less open or friendly with me in future. If Hannah’s daughter was to find out that Hannah hasn’t been taking her medication, she may get angry which could cause tension between mother and daughter. Hannah may also blame me for this.

If I kept this information totally confidentiality, it would result in tensions between myself, my managers and my co-workers as they would, quite rightly, assume I cannot do my job properly and cannot be trusted. I would also expect to receive a disciplinary at the very least. If Hannah’s health were to deteriorate as a result of not taking her medication, her family and friends would not be happy with me. I could also be charged by the police for neglect.