Adult Safeguarding: Sharing Information
Sharing the right information, at the right time, with the right people, is fundamental to good practice in safeguarding adults.
Frontline professionals and volunteers should always report safeguarding concerns in line with their organisation’s policy. Policies should be clear about how confidential information should be shared between departments in the same organisation.
For Safeguarding purposes sensitive or personal information sometimes needs to be shared between the Local Authority and its safeguarding partners (including GP’s, health, the police, service providers, housing, regulators and the Office of the Public Guardian). This may include information about individuals who are at risk, service providers or those who may pose a risk to others. It aims to enable partners to share information appropriately and lawfully in order to improve the speed and quality of safeguarding responses.
The Care Act emphasises the need to empower people, to balance choice and control for individuals against preventing harm and reducing risk, and to respond proportionately to safeguarding concerns. The Act deals with the role of the safeguarding adults board’s (SAB’s) in sharing strategic information to improve local safeguarding practice. Section 45 ‘the supply of information’ covers the responsibilities of others to comply with requests for information from the safeguarding adults board.
Sharing information between organisations as part of day-to-day safeguarding practice is already covered in the common law duty of confidentiality, The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) the Data Protection Act, the Human Rights Act and the Crime and Disorder Act. The Mental Capacity Act is also relevant as all those coming into contact with adults with care and support needs should be able to assess whether someone has the mental capacity to make a decision concerning risk, safety or sharing information.
It remains the responsibility of organisations and the professionals they employ to ensure that they have a basis for processing that meets common law requirements and the requirements of the GDPR; and for public bodies that they are acting within their powers.
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Why do we need to share adult safeguarding information?
Organisations need to share safeguarding information with the right people at the right time to:
- Prevent death or serious harm,
- Co-ordinate effective and efficient responses,
- Enable early interventions to prevent the escalation of risk,
- Prevent abuse and harm that may increase the need for care and support,
- Maintain and improve good practice in safeguarding adults,
- Reveal patterns of abuse that were previously undetected and that could identify others at risk of abuse,
- Identify low-level concerns that may reveal people at risk of abuse,
- Help people to access the right kind of support to reduce risk and promote wellbeing,
- Help identify people who may pose a risk to others and, where possible, work to reduce offending behaviour,
- Reduce organisational risk and protect reputation.
False perceptions about needing consent to share safeguarding information
Some frontline professionals and their managers can be over-cautious about sharing personal information, particularly if it is against the wishes of the individual concerned. They may also be mistaken about needing consent to share safeguarding information. The risk of sharing information is often perceived as higher than it actually is. It is important that professionals consider the risks of not sharing safeguarding information when making decisions and that these decisions are recorded.
How to address false perceptions
- Raise awareness about responsibilities to share information (profession or work role-specific guidance may help),
- Encourage consideration of the risks of not sharing information,
- Brief staff and volunteers on the basic principles of confidentiality the EU General Data Protection Regulation and data protection,
- Improve understanding of the Mental Capacity Act,
- Provide a contact number for staff and volunteers to raise concerns,
- Be clear in procedures about when to raise a safeguarding concern,
- Assure staff and volunteers that they do not necessarily need to have evidence to raise a concern.
Complex networks between safeguarding partner agencies
The local authority has the lead responsibility for safeguarding adults with care and support needs, and the police and the NHS also have clear safeguarding duties under the Care Act 2014. Clinical commissioning groups and the police will often have different geographical boundaries and different IT systems. Housing and social care providers will also provide services across boundaries.
The Care Act 2014 (Section 6 ) places duties on the local authority and its partners to cooperate in the exercise of their functions relevant to care and support including those to protect adults. The safeguarding adults board should ensure that it ‘has the involvement of all partners necessary to effectively carry out its duties’.
Below is a simple flowchart of the key principles for information sharing. You can also download this flowchart.
Sharing information to prevent abuse and neglect
Sharing information between organisations about known or suspected risks may help to prevent abuse taking place. The safeguarding adults board has a key role to play in sharing information and intelligence on both local and national threats and risks. The board’s annual report must provide information about any safeguarding adults reviews. This can include learning to inform future prevention strategies. Designated adult safeguarding managers ‘should also have a role in highlighting the extent to which their own organisation prevents abuse and neglect taking place’.
What if a person does not want you to share their information?
Frontline workers and volunteers should always share safeguarding concerns in line with their organisation’s policy, usually with their line manager or safeguarding lead in the first instance, except in emergency situations. As long as it does not increase the risk to the individual, the member of staff should explain to them that it is their duty to share their concern with their manager. The safeguarding principle of proportionality should underpin decisions about sharing information without consent, and decisions should be on a case-by-case basis.
Individuals may not give their consent to the sharing of safeguarding information for a number of reasons. For example, they may be frightened of reprisals, they may fear losing control, they may not trust social services or other partners or they may fear that their relationship with the abuser will be damaged.
If a person refuses intervention to support them with a safeguarding concern, or requests that information about them is not shared with other safeguarding partners, their wishes should be respected. However, there are a number of circumstances where the practitioner can reasonably override such a decision, including:
- You have a lawful basis for sharing without consent under the GDPR & Data Protection Act 2018,
- The individual lacks the mental capacity to make that decision – this must be properly explored and recorded in line with the Mental Capacity Act,
- Other people are, or may be, at risk, including children sharing the information could prevent a crime,
- The alleged abuser has care and support needs and may also be at risk,
- A serious crime has been committed staff are implicated,
- The person has the mental capacity to make that decision but they may be under duress or being coerced,
- The risk is unreasonably high and meets the criteria for a multi-agency risk assessment conference referral,
- You have a legal obligation.
If none of the above apply and the decision is not to share safeguarding information with other safeguarding partners, or not to intervene to safeguard the person:
- Support the person to weigh up the risks and benefits of different options,
- Ensure they are aware of the level of risk and possible outcomes,
- Agree on and record the level of risk the person is taking,
- Offer to arrange for them to have an advocate or peer supporter,
- Offer support for them to build confidence and self-esteem if necessary,
- Record the reasons for not intervening or sharing information,
- Regularly review the situation,
- Try to build trust and use gentle persuasion to enable the person to better protect themselves.
If it is necessary to share information outside the organisation:
- Explore the reasons for the person’s objections – what are they worried about?
- Explain the concern and why you think it is important to share the information,
- Tell the person who you would like to share the information with and why,
- Explain the benefits, to them or others, of sharing information – could they access better help and support?
- Discuss the consequences of not sharing the information – could someone come to harm?
- Reassure them that the information will not be shared with anyone who does not need to know,
- Reassure them that they are not alone and that support is available to them.
If the person cannot be persuaded to give their consent then, unless it is considered dangerous to do so, it should be explained to them that the information will be shared without consent. The reasons should be given and recorded.
It is very important that the risk of sharing information is also considered. In some cases, such as domestic violence or hate crime, it is possible that sharing information could increase the risk to the individual. Safeguarding partners need to work jointly to provide advice, support and protection to the individual in order to minimise the possibility of worsening the relationship or triggering retribution from the abuser.
What if a safeguarding partner is reluctant to share information?
There are only a limited number of circumstances where it would be acceptable not to share information pertinent to safeguarding with relevant safeguarding partners. Safeguarding adults boards set clear policies for dealing with conflict on information sharing. If there is continued reluctance from one partner to share information on a safeguarding concern the matter would be referred to the board. It can then consider whether the concern warrants a request, under Clause 45 of the Care Act, for the ‘supply of information’. Then the reluctant party would only have grounds for refusal if it would be ‘incompatible with their own duties or have an adverse effect on the exercise of their functions’.