6 Key Principles of Safeguarding in Health & Social Care

The six principles of safeguarding vulnerable adults are crucial when it comes to protecting these patients; the principles ensure that they are kept safe and secure, whilst still having their own rights. This is vital to help vulnerable adults enjoy their lives and stay out of harm, while keeping them as safe as possible - yet not smothering them.

‘Vulnerable adults’ is an umbrella term, used to describe different people with medical, physical and emotional conditions. The Universal Health Service defines a vulnerable person as one who is “for any reason unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation”.

The report goes on to state that there is no mention of capacity in the definition, even though obviously, a patient without capacity would be defined as a vulnerable adult. The reason for the definition being like this is because many patients withcapacity are not able to look after themselves due to other circumstances.

In this regard, a ‘vulnerable adult’ could be someone from these groups:

  • Mentally and physically disabled people
  • People with a mental illness
  • Chronically ill people
  • Terminally ill people
  • The elderly

A vulnerable adult could also be from another group of people. Generally, the determination of whether somebody is a vulnerable person is made on a case by case basis.

The Care Act 2014

The 6 principles of safeguarding vulnerable adults were a part of the 2014 Care Act. This historic act overhauled the legislation for social care in England – which hadn’t been updated for a staggering 60 years. It was last revised in the 1950s, less than ten years after the end of World War Two. Bearing this in mind, there was a lot in the care world that needed to be refreshed!

The Care Act has a few important amendments that are crucial for anyone working in or receiving social care. These include:

  • Local councils being required to ensure the well-being and mental soundness of care workers
  • Establishing that the Human Rights Act in 1998 covers the care and support from council providers
  • Councils being liable for ensuring that everyone using care services has access to financial advice
  • A new appeals system being introduced
  • And of course, the guidance of safeguarding vulnerable adults

The Six Principles of Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults

The 6 principles for safeguarding adults were part of the Care Act and now act as values for all care work. They aim to provide the best service and protect vulnerable patients as much as possible, while still enabling the patients to be free to make their own decisions, where appropriate.


This principle states that vulnerable patients should be encouraged to make their own decisions. If they are making a health-related choice, the principle states that the patient should know all the possible outcomes and then make their own personal decision with these in mind. It also highlights the need of consent for many medical procedures.

To ensure that this is enforced in the right way, care workers must discuss all the possible outcomes of the patient’s decision, without enforcing their opinions too much. If the patient does not have capacity to give consent, then their decisions can be made for them. Whether the patient has capacity depends on a few factors that are specified in the Mental Capacity Act 2005.


The principle of prevention highlights how the social services try to take action before any harm happens, rather than having to fix things after damage. They want to be aware of the risks that a particular person faces and safeguard them before they are put in a dangerous situation.

This is mainly done behind the scenes as staff are trained and educated. Awareness must be raised about the dangers that a particular person or type of person may face, and detailed information about how to spot an abused patient must be accessible. Meetings and discussions between team members also helps to pick up on and prevent harm.

The importance of DBS checks is shown here. Having properly trained staff who are the right characters for the job – which includes not having a substantial criminal record – means that training for the prevention of harm is much more likely to be successful.


 The principle of proportionality explores what the least intrusive response to a situation is in correlation to the risk. This principle tries to ensure that the patient’s life is impacted as little as possible by accurately assessing the risk.

For example, if someone’s life was at risk, the response might be a bit more desperate and intrusive so the police may be called and be capable of forcing entry into a place of residence. However, if someone was being abused over a long period of time, every effort would be made to try and prevent this, but it would be unlikely that the police would immediately interfere.


This principle underpins the entire concept of safeguarding adults, that being that those who are vulnerable must be supported in the best way possible. Organisations must know what to do if there are concerns about someone’s well-being and how to act appropriately to protect them as much as they can.

The protection principle also details how to offer help and support for people at risk and how exactly to stop abuse. Having the accurate training for nurses and carers working with vulnerable people is crucial to ensure that the appropriate protection is administrated.


Despite these being the 6 key principles of safeguarding at work, collaborating with local communities is essential. The partnership principle details how organisations should share (non sensitive) information with the community and other organisations. It states that charities and organisations should teach local people how to prevent, detect and report abuse.

It can do so by raising awareness about abuse and detailing how to spot it by giving out leaflets or putting up posters. These must encourage the communities to get in touch with the leading organisation or other contacts. Many campaigns, like Hackney’s campaign featuring photographs of vulnerable patients, are powerful and emotive.

The partnership principle also encourages collaboration with similar businesses and charities to raise awareness and pinpoint any specifically vulnerable people.


The accountability principle states that safeguarding is everybody’s duty, and everyone in contact with a vulnerable patient should be responsible for noting any risks.

While carers and social workers do have a big responsibility to spot any potential harm with their vulnerable patient, it should also be the job of doctors, friends, relatives, or anyone else that they come into contact with.


The 6 key principles for safeguarding vulnerable adults, and the Care Act of 2014, have made huge strides in the protection of vulnerable patients. They provide a clear frame on how to take care of these adults, while still giving them as much freedom of choice as possible. These principles are crucial when designating the appropriate care for a vulnerable patient.

Posted in Safeguarding