What is Duty of Care in Health and Social Care?

duty of care in health and social care

Duty of care in health and social care refers to the legal obligation of healthcare professionals and social care providers to ensure the well-being of their patients or clients. This duty involves providing care that is reasonable, prudent, and expected of someone in their professional role. It encompasses ensuring the safety of individuals in their care, protecting them from harm, and preventing any actions or omissions that could cause injury or suffering. Professionals must provide care that adheres to the current best practices and standards expected in their profession.

This duty also involves making decisions that prioritise the well-being and interests of the individuals receiving care. They must respect their rights to choice, dignity, privacy, and consent, and maintain competence in their field. Healthcare and social care workers are required to keep their skills and knowledge up to date to provide effective and informed care. Duty of care is fundamental in ensuring that individuals receive safe, effective, and respectful treatment in any health or social care setting.

At times, there are conflicts between the duty to respect the person’s right to choice and the duty to keep them safe.

What is the code of conduct for healthcare support workers?

The Code of Conduct for healthcare support workers is an induction standard alongside the Care Certificate. It outlines the standards expected in healthcare settings such as hospitals, clinics, and care homes. These workers are expected to exhibit professionalism and integrity, consistently acting with honesty and maintaining confidentiality. They must also show compassion and respect, treating all patients and clients with kindness and dignity, regardless of their backgrounds. Effective, clear, and honest communication with patients, their families, and other healthcare professionals is crucial.

Healthcare support workers are committed to providing the highest quality of care based on the best available evidence. They should continually seek to improve their competencies and the services they offer. They are accountable for their actions and must ensure they do not exceed the boundaries of their professional competence. Teamwork and collaboration are emphasised to ensure patient care is effective and efficient. Additionally, respecting the privacy and confidentiality of patient information is a fundamental responsibility, with information being disclosed only in accordance with legal and policy requirements. This code helps guide behavior and decisions, ensuring that healthcare support workers maintain the public’s trust and contribute positively to the care environment.

What are Conflicts and Dilemmas with the Duty of Care?

Conflicts and dilemmas within the duty of care in health and social care settings can stem from various factors, including ethical considerations, resource constraints, and competing priorities.

One common example is the tension between maintaining patient confidentiality and the need to disclose information to prevent harm to the patient or others.

Healthcare professionals may also face challenges in balancing a patient’s autonomy with their duty to act in the patient’s best interests. This is particularly true when decisions go against medical advice. Limited resources, such as staff and equipment, can lead to dilemmas in meeting the expected level of care, requiring difficult decisions about resource allocation. Cultural and religious beliefs may conflict with medical recommendations, requiring sensitive navigation. End-of-life care decisions, such as withdrawing life-sustaining treatment, raise ethical dilemmas about prolonging life versus relieving suffering. Conflicts of interest between patient welfare and external pressures, like financial incentives, can also arise. Ensuring informed consent, especially when patients have impaired decision-making capacity, presents additional challenges. Addressing these conflicts and dilemmas demands careful consideration of ethical principles, clear communication, and adherence to professional standards and legal obligations. Collaboration with interdisciplinary teams and consultation with ethics committees may be necessary.

How does the Duty of Care Relate to Helping People Making Risky Choices?

The duty of care in health and social care settings encompasses the responsibility to prioritise the well-being and safety of individuals. When it comes to helping people make risky choices, the duty of care requires care workers to balance this responsibility with respecting the autonomy and self-determination of the individuals they support.


Care workers must provide information about the risks and consequences associated with the choices individuals are considering, ensuring they understand the potential outcomes. They should assess the person’s decision-making capacity to determine if they are capable of understanding the risks involved and making an informed choice.


While care workers have a duty to protect individuals from harm, they also have a duty to respect their autonomy and right to make decisions about their own lives. This means supporting individuals to make choices that align with their preferences, values, and goals, even if those choices involve some level of risk.


Care workers can provide guidance, assistance, and support to help individuals weigh the risks and benefits of their choices and develop strategies for managing or mitigating risks. Ultimately, the duty of care requires care workers to respect the decisions made by individuals, even if they involve some degree of risk, while continuing to provide ongoing support and assistance as needed.

Why Does Duty of Care Contribute to Safeguarding?

While a duty of care applies in any setting – for example, a business operating in an office block would still have a duty of care towards employees and visitors – it is particularly important in health and social care settings due to safeguarding. This is because such settings often care for those who are most at risk of harm or abuse, such as children or adults with support needs.

As a result, safeguarding and the duty of care in health and social care go hand in hand. Care workers have a duty to safeguard individuals and promote their well-being. They should ensure that people are kept safe from abuse, harm, or injury. They also have a duty to act if they believe that others are not upholding their duty of care. For example, this might involve reporting if a colleague is mistreating adults or whistleblowing if there are concerns about organisational wrongdoing.

The duty not to work beyond one’s competencies is closely linked to safeguarding. For instance, if an individual confides that they are being abused by a family member, a care worker has a duty to escalate this and respond according to workplace policies and procedures. 

This means care workers might be bound by their duty of care obligations to report something divulged to them in confidence by someone they support. They might also have to report something even if the person has asked them not to do so.

However, it is not the care worker’s duty to take matters into their own hands, such as confronting the family member, as this lies outside their competencies.

Specifically to safeguarding, the law requires that care workers report anything that might cause serious harm either directly or indirectly, regardless of confidentiality. It also requires them to report anything which relates to serious criminal activity.

Adhering to the duty of care and safeguarding adults is not only a legal requirement but also benefits those in care by helping to deliver high-quality care, reduce workplace incidents, create a safer environment, and empower people to raise any concerns they have.