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Explain the term ‘confidentiality’

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

Confidentiality is an important legal and ethical duty of health and social care workers.

It means that you should not share the personal information of an individual that you care for unless it is absolutely necessary. It also places an obligation on yourself and your employer to ensure that personal information is stored securely and cannot be accessed by any unauthorised persons.

The Human Rights Act gives everybody a legal right to privacy, so it is important that you respect the privacy and dignity of the individuals that you care for.

Breaches of confidentiality can be very serious and can result in disciplinary action or even prosecution so it is important that you understand your duties.

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.

How would you explain the term ‘confidentiality’ to Hannah?

As an individual, Hannah has the right to choose whether or not she takes her medication but because her care plan states she needs to take the medication regularly, I would explain to her that I have a duty-of-care to disclose the fact that she has not been taking it. I would explain that if she were to get ill from not taking the medication, I would feel awful and could get in trouble for not telling anybody.

I would continue by saying that I respect her privacy and would reassure her that I would only tell the people that need-to-know (my manager, her G.P etc.) and would not tell her daughter directly if she didn’t want me to.