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Analyse legal and ethical tensions between maintaining confidentiality and sharing information

This page is designed to answer the following questions:

NOTE: Although this page has been marked as complete, it has not yet been peer-reviewed or quality-assured, therefore it should be considered a ‘first draft‘ and any information contained herein should be fact-checked independently.

As an adult care worker, you will be privy to personal information about your service users and you have a legal and ethical duty to ensure that it is kept confidential (a discussion of the legal framework for handling information can be found here).

However, sometimes you may need to share information with others, which can lead to tensions and dilemmas.

For example, if an individual discloses to you that are being abused but asks you to keep it a secret, there is a conflict between your duty of confidentiality and your duty of care. In such cases, you should always report the disclosure to your manager or safeguarding lead because your duty of care overrides your duty of confidentiality. Of course, you should still take care to ensure that information is only shared with those that need to know. You should refer to your organisation’s safeguarding policy and procedure for further information.

Similarly, if you report poor or unsafe practices and your employer does not take action to resolve them, you may feel a conflict between whistleblowing and your duty to your employer. Again, all unsafe practices should be reported to the relevant agencies (HSE, CQC, local authority etc.) and your organisation should have a whistleblowing policy and procedure in place to protect employees that do this from any repercussions.

As a final example, it is permissible to break codes of confidentiality when you believe a crime has been or is about to be committed. Here, you have a legal and ethical duty to pass on information to others.


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