Adult safeguarding

Published: 13/08/2019


As healthcare professionals we have a duty and responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our patients and colleagues. Safeguarding adults is about ensuring and taking positive action to promote and maintain the safety and well-being of our patients and providing additional measures for those patients who are vulnerable be it due to diminished capacity or because they are for whatever reason open to harm or abuse.

Principles of safeguarding in adults

There are six key principles which underpin all adult safeguarding work:

  • empowerment: support and encourage patients to make their own decisions through informed consent
  • prevention: take action before harm occurs
  • proportionality: use the least intrusive response appropriate to the risk presented
  • protection: provide support and representation for those in greatest need
  • partnership: local services should work together with their communities to provide solutions
  • accountability: there must be transparency and accountability in the provision of care and safeguarding services.

The purpose of these web pages is to signpost colleagues to relevant generic and specific guidance from across the UK and every effort has been made to keep this up to date. However, colleagues should also be aware of their local referral processes and contact details and should participate in regular safeguarding training. Although much of this training will be delivered locally as part of annual updates for all health professionals, you may wish to also look at the recommended educational resources, including some bespoke virtual cases here.

The effects of abuse may result in long term serious effects on health and wellbeing (see the Research and Evidence section).

Guidance and language may vary across the UK as does the legal framework (see the Key References and Links section).

There are many types of maltreatment (see Definitions section below). It is not uncommon for these forms of maltreatment to co-exist.

One of the more common forms of abuse to present in acute health is domestic violence/maltreatment which should also be seen in the context of safeguarding children and young people in the family who may be at risk.

These web pages will also provide limited information and links to more detailed resources on the specific safeguarding topics of sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Please also go to our pages on consent and ethics issues in adults to find out more about the Mental Capacity Act, deprivation of liberty safeguards and other relevant and allied topics.

There is a particular current emphasis on prevention and the early ascertainment of radicalisation and specific UK guidance has been developed.

Types of abuse

Not all abuse is physical and it may take different forms. This link to the Social Care Institute for Excellence details the different types of abuse that may occur.

Vulnerable adults are particularly at risk of exploitation and abuse. This link on the NHS Choices website deals more specifically with recognising abuse in this population and alerting and involving the appropriate organisations. It also details the different forms of abuse and its presentation to services.

Other useful sources of information

The NHS England Safeguarding team web pages provide an excellent overview of the subject with invaluable links and contacts as well as additional pages on topics not covered in these web pages, e.g. modern slavery.