Information Sharing and Confidentiality | Salford Safeguarding Adults Board

Information Sharing and Confidentiality

The prevention of abuse and the preservation of safety usually requires sharing of information between services in the best interests of the abused person and the prevention of criminal activity. The non-sharing of information can prevent adequate action being taken to prevent abuse and protect adults at risk. 

Often it is only when the various pieces of information are put together in a strategy meeting that a full picture of the concerns can be seen. Confidentiality is paramount in the delivery of care services but information can be shared within the confines of safeguarding meetings.

Articles 2 and 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 place an obligation on public authorities to protect people's rights to life and their freedom from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment.  Meeting these obligations may necessitate lawful information sharing.

The Data Protection Act 1998 talks of two types of information:

  1. "Personal Data" which relates to a living individual who can be identified from that information.  It includes any expression of opinion about the individual and any implications of the intentions of any person in respect of the individual.
  2. "Sensitive Data" including information concerning racial or ethnic origin, physical/mental health, sexual life, alleged or committed offences.

This is the sort of information agencies are likely to need to share to support victims, conduct risk assessments and help keep the individual safe.

Information sharing is governed by a legislation framework of gateways and protections. No single body of law governs information sharing.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs advocates a straightforward 'sequence of consideration'.   Lawful information sharing may proceed if the answer to the following questions is yes:

  • Do you have a legal power to share information? e.g.  The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 Section 115 provides a legal power to share information to prevent crime.  This will apply to the majority of Adult Safeguarding cases.
  • Are you in compliance with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998? Information sharing may not interfere with rights under Article 8 (respect for private and family life) unless it is in accordance with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the public interest, public safety for the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or the protection of rights and freedom of others.
  • Are you compliant with common law obligations of confidence? Common law requires that information may not be lawfully disclosed when given in certain circumstances of confidentiality. Disclosure of confidential information can be justified if: the individual to whom the duty of confidentiality is owed has consented to the disclosure; there is an overriding public interest in disclosure; disclosure may be required by a court order or other obligation. If the individual who is owed confidentiality does not have the mental capacity to consent then disclosure may be made provided the assessment of their mental capacity and their best interests are described in the record of the adult safeguarding procedure.

Under the Data Protection Act 1998 information about individuals must be:

  • Fairly and lawfully processed (which includes information sharing)
  • Obtained only for one or more specific and lawful purposes and not processed in any manner incompatible with those purposes
  • Adequate, relevant and not excessive
  • Accurate and kept up to date where necessary
  • Not kept for longer than necessary
  • Processed in line with the data subjects rights
  • Secure
  • Not transferred outside the EEA (European Economic Area)

As a matter of good practice services needing to share information should routinely consider getting explicit written consent or documented verbal consent to the information sharing from the person about whom the information is concerned. Consent must be freely given and cannot be inferred or provided under duress. When gaining consent the individual should be told clearly:

  • what the purpose of sharing information is
  • how it will happen (within the enquiry or safeguarding meeting)
  • what information will be shared and with whom.

The individual should be informed of their right to refuse consent but assured they will be kept informed about the safeguarding processes that may share the information. This will give the victim:

  • a degree of control over any decisions and processes in what may be very difficult circumstances for them
  • a greater opportunity to accept offers of advice, support and protection

and provide services with a strong form of protection against any future challenges.

The Caldicott Committee 1997 "Report on the review of patient identifiable information" recognises that confidential patient information may need to be disclosed without consent in certain circumstances if it is in the best interests of the patient or public. The committee discusses in what circumstances this may be appropriate and what safeguards need to be observed. The Caldicott principles should be applied in adult protection situations and can be summarised as follows:

  • Information about the alleged abuse should be shared on a 'need to know' basis when it is in the best interests of the service user.
  • Confidentiality must not be confused with secrecy
  • Informed consent should be obtained but if this is not possible and other vulnerable adults are at risk it may be necessary to over-ride the requirement.

Agencies should not give assurances of absolute confidentiality where there are concerns about abuse as in circumstances where the abuse is a criminal act or placing other vulnerable people at risk the information must be disclosed.

Practice around information sharing between health and social care is likely to become more open subject to reasonable safeguards as health and social care become more integrated. Dame Fiona Caldicott has herself identified a tendency for health and social care professionals to err on the side of not sharing information when sharing information would be in the patient's interests and has been critical of such defensive practice, in her review of information governance.

For further information, you may wish to look at the Government's response to the review of information governance

It is essential the properly trained interpreters are available throughout these processes where required.  This includes British Sign Language signing and other sensory interpretation support as well as interpretation where English is not the adults first language.

Documents used throughout the process will also need to be made available in other formats, languages or other support offered.

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