How are people vulnerable?

Vulnerable people can be abused in many ways. We might automatically think of high-profile cases of abuse where people have been beaten, tortured, starved or sexually assaulted. But we should also think about more subtle forms of abuse that can affect the people in our care – the psychological abuse of bullying, the abuse of being exploited, financial abuse by family members or others (including, sometimes, members of health care teams), and the twin abuses of treating people without their consent and breaching their confidentiality. We should also be aware that a wide range of people can cause the abuse – family members, friends, health care staff, volunteers and even fellow patients/clients.

So we should all be on the lookout for signs of abuse. The Scottish Government has issued standards for health care workers on recognising and managing abuse that include the following:

  • look for factors that may lead to patients/clients, staff and others, including yourself, being in danger of harm and abuse
  • find out what your employer says you should do if you suspect that someone is in danger or has been harmed or abused
  • identify the factors that allow abusive behaviour to happen and discuss these with colleagues and managers
  • consider your own behaviour and actions to make sure they don’t contribute to situations, actions and behaviour that can be dangerous, harmful or abusive
  • develop relationships with patients/clients and family carers so that they feel able to raise concerns about possible and actual danger, harm and abuse to themselves and others – make sure they know that you’ll listen to their reports and deal with them seriously
  • work with patients/clients in a way that respects their dignity, privacy, confidentiality and rights
  • make sure you’re honest with patients/clients about your responsibility to pass on information about potential and actual danger, harm and abuse
  • take appropriate and immediate action when you see behaviour, actions and situations that might lead to danger, harm and abuse to people in your workplace
  • object to and raise concerns with appropriate people and organisations about practice or policies that may lead to danger, harm and abuse
  • accurately record and report sources and signs of danger, harm and abuse to the appropriate person, including times, dates and explanations of incidents
  • report any unusual or major changes in your patient’s/client’s health, cleanliness, physical care, actions and behaviour
  • contribute to your organisation’s procedures for dealing with suspected harm and abuse and work within them.
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