How To Protect & Safeguard Vulnerable Patients
Before we take a look at how to safeguard vulnerable patients and protect them from harm, let’s first define exactly what a vulnerable patient is.
A vulnerable patient is somebody who needs more protection and support than most others. They may need extra physical or emotional support, depending on their condition, disabilities, or mental limitations.
Medical and care staff who provide support to vulnerable patients need to be aware of their responsibilities and how to ensure that they provide adequate safeguarding and protection. For instance, doctors and nurses need to be aware of the safeguarding policies and procedures that are in place when they work with vulnerable patients in a healthcare setting.
Who would be considered to be a “vulnerable patient”?
In general, the following types of patients may be considered as vulnerable and in need of extra safeguarding provisions:
- People with physical or mental disabilities
- Elderly people
- Some people with chronic or terminal illness
- People who are temporarily incapacitated mentally or physically due to sever illness or injury
- Sedated or anesthetized patients
- Any adult with compromised mental or emotional faculties, either permanently or temporarily.
Children may fall into these categories as well as adults, but the difference is that children will usually have at least one parent or guardian to advocate for them, help them with decisions, and protect them from harm whilst in a health or social care setting.
Protecting people with mental health conditions
Patients with mental health problems fall under the 2005 Mental Capacity Act (MCA) which is a legal framework that allows caregivers to act on the behalf of people in a diminished mental state in certain circumstances. This can only happen when safeguarding interventions need to be implemented to maintain the safety of the individual.
The guidance states that assistance can only be given if the patient doesn’t have the mental capacity to safely make their own decisions.
Protecting disabled people
Care workers should protect patients with physical or mental disabilities from harm, but also treat them with respect and dignity. Employees need to be vetted carefully with background checks, such as DBS checks, to reduce the chance of neglect or abuse.
Protecting chronically ill patients
Chronic illnesses are those that last for a long time and interfere with the patient’s day to day life. Some chronically and severely ill patients will struggle to look after their basic needs such as dressing, eating, using the bathroom, and washing. Chronically ill patients are often in the vulnerable category as they may be at risk of physical, mental, or emotional neglect or abuse. Health and social care workers need to be aware of the signs of neglect or abuse and report them at the first opportunity.
Protecting the elderly
When people reach old age, typically 65 years and older or retirement age, they are at increasing risk of losing their physical or mental capacity. In order to avoid neglect and abuse, health and social care settings need to have safeguarding policies and procedures in place, including the use of DBS checks to make sure that job applicants are suitable for their role.
Protecting terminally ill people
Terminally ill people are at particular risk of emotional abuse, especially financial abuse. One of the most common types of abuse that terminally ill people suffer is pressure from relatives or friends to change their wills. They may also feel like they are a burden on family or caregivers and fall into depression. Care facilities should train staff on how to spot the signs of abuse and depression and intervene when necessary.
How to safeguard vulnerable patients
There are two main steps that caregivers should take to safeguard vulnerable patients:
- Monitor vulnerable patients for signs of harm, neglect, or abuse.
- Report and resolve any safeguarding issues as soon as possible.
Let’s take a look at how caregivers such as family, healthcare workers, and social care employees can help to safeguard and protect vulnerable patients from harm.
Family and friends
Family and friends can help to protect vulnerable patients by reporting any suspicions that they may have of abuse or neglect to the managers of the care facility. For instance, if family members see that the character of an elderly relative has become more withdrawn and depressed, they can report this to a manager.
In some cases, family and friends may be the perpetrators of the neglect or abuse, and the onus is on health or social care workers to monitor and report any issues.
Family or friends should report any unusual behaviour changes. They should also report signs of physical abuse immediately, including marks or bruises. If people suspect severe abuse or the care facility managers ignore the reports, then the police should be contacted.
Healthcare providers such as doctors and nurses need to be aware of their organisation’s safeguarding policies and procedures. They should receive regular training to make sure they are up to date with any changes.
It is worth noting that you can break patient-doctor confidentiality in some cases. For instance, if the patient is unable to make decisions that are in their best interest or face credible risk of harm, injury, or death.
All healthcare workers who have frequent, direct, and unsupervised contact with vulnerable patients should get a DBS check.
Care workers have similar responsibilities and duties as healthcare workers. They need to understand and put into practice safeguarding policies and procedures. They should also get a DBS check before starting their role.
Vulnerable patients are people under health or social care who cannot make decisions for themselves. The individual may suffer from severe physical, mental, or emotional problems.
Health and social care providers should have stringent safeguarding policies and procedures in place to protect vulnerable patients. These may include the use of criminal background checks, known as DBS checks.
To find out more about DBS checks, get in touch with one of our expert advisors today.