Policy briefing

Safeguarding framework will help nurses protect their patients

RCN sets out competencies for healthcare staff in relation to adult safeguarding

RCN sets out competencies for healthcare staff in relation to adult safeguarding

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Essential information

Safeguarding involves protecting an individual’s right to live in safety, free from abuse and neglect, and is a key component of high-quality health and social care. All healthcare staff have a responsibility for the safety of their patients. Those in most need of protection are children and young people, and adults with physical or mental impairment and those with learning disabilities.

What’s new?

An intercollegiate document, published by the RCN on behalf of 17 contributing organisations, sets out the roles and competencies for healthcare staff in relation to adult safeguarding.

Adult safeguarding: rules and competencies for healthcare staff aims to guide professionals to identify the competencies they need to ensure individuals receive personalised and culturally sensitive safeguarding.

The document offers a framework for developing job descriptions and roles, assessing clinical competence for different practitioner grades, performance appraisal and the development of personal goals. Included in its scope are all organisations providing or commissioning healthcare for adults and it covers the four UK countries.

The publication is founded on the six principles that underpin adult safeguarding and which apply in all sectors and settings: empowerment, prevention, proportionality, protection, partnership and accountability. These principles should inform the ways in which staff engage with those at risk of abuse, harm or neglect, the document says.

It is expected that this first iteration of the competency framework will be developed further over the next decade.

Implications for nurses

Nurses, and especially those working in emergency settings, are a key point of contact with statutory services for those at risk of abuse and neglect.

As well as signs of physical, sexual and psychological abuse, nursing staff should be vigilant for indications of self-neglect, modern slavery and domestic abuse, including female genital mutilation. Under the 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security Act, NHS staff in England, Wales and Scotland must also have due regard for the need to prevent people being drawn to terrorism.

The competencies described in the new guidance make it clear that all NHS employees, including registered nurses, students and nurse associates, have a collective responsibility to recognise and act on indications of possible abuse.

The publication identifies competencies for staff at six levels, from porters and receptionists to board members. At level 2, for example, which covers all practitioners who have regular contact with patients, their families and carers, staff are expected to address the immediate safety of any individual where there are safeguarding concerns and to put in place a protection plan where the risk of abuse is high.

Practitioners at this level should receive a minimum of three to four hours of refresher training over each three-year period, in addition to a mandatory safeguarding session during their initial induction.

The document lays out expected learning outcomes for training at each level.

Expert opinion

Dawne Garrett, RCN professional lead for older people and lead author of the guidance

‘Following a plethora of abuse scandals involving adults at risk, healthcare staff now have a set of competencies they need to meet to help them safeguard people from harm.

‘Emergency nurses are absolutely at the forefront of safeguarding, along with their medical colleagues. It cannot be stressed enough how key emergency department staff are in the safeguarding process.

‘For frontline emergency nurses, we would expect them, at a very minimum, to be at level 2 in the competency framework.

‘We do acknowledge that this involves additional training and in the current climate that is incredibly difficult. But if you know in advance what you should be doing, you can deal with situations more effectively and in a more person-centred way, which in the long term will save time and improve outcomes for clients and patients.

‘My message to emergency nurses is maintain your professional curiosity. That’s hard when time constraints are such, but it’s key to effective safeguarding.’


Further information

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