Safeguarding adults - everyone’s responsibility

Dawne Garrett explains the background to new guidance from the RCN aimed at staff who do not have specialist knowledge


The Care Act 2014 in England, continuing media exposure of poor practice and a resolution at RCN congress provide the backdrop for the publication of RCN safeguarding guidance for nurses.

Aimed at staff who do not have specialist knowledge in safeguarding, the guidance provides principles and definitions, describes what actions or omissions constitute abuse and sets out nursing roles and responsibilities in reporting abuse. It takes a four country perspective and highlights relevant legislation in different parts of the UK.

The guidance does not replace local policies and procedures, but explains the need for staff to access and follow the processes laid down by their organisations. The guidance recognises that all adults may have safeguarding needs at times and that the assumption that particular groups such as older people are homogeneously ‘vulnerable’ is inappropriate.

Adults might experience sexual, psychological, physical or financial abuse at any time throughout the life course. Other recognised forms of abuse are set out such as domestic violence including so-called honour-based violence, modern slavery and discriminatory abuse.

There is discussion on what constitutes poor professional practice and organisational abuse including poor care standards, lack of positive responses to complex needs, rigid routines and inadequate staffing. Readers are directed towards useful documents such as the Department of Health publication Positive and Proactive Care and the Nursing and Midwifery Council training toolkit on safeguarding.

Nurses’ and healthcare assistants’ (HCAs) roles and responsibilities in reporting abuse are explored, including knowledge of what constitutes abuse, identification of abuse, acting as an advocate, maintaining records and sharing learning after a referral. Individual practitioners must actively engage in appropriate training and ensure they remain up to date.

There is also a short section on raising concerns in an organisation, also known as 'whistleblowing'.

The guidance was launched at RCN congress in Bournemouth last month, with a fringe event that used a case study approach to discuss the issues and draw on the guidance. It was well received and resulted in a lively interactive session.

In summary, the guidance sets out the main stages that a nurse or HCA needs to follow:

Identify safeguarding concerns

Report concerns using local policies

Participate in investigations

Disseminate and reflect on the outcomes and learning

Download the RCN guidance: Safeguarding adults - everyone’s responsibility 

Hard copies are available via RCN Direct or by telephoning 0345 772 6100.  The publication code is 004 837.

About the author

Dawne Garrett is professional lead – older people and dementia care at the Royal College of Nursing.

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