How do you safeguard in health and social care? Guidance for employers

How do you safeguard in health and social care to ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable people? Ensure the wellbeing with this guide to proactive safeguarding measures.


James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.


07 May 2024


11 July 2024
5 min read
How do you safeguard in health and social care? Guidance for employers

Safeguarding is the practice of protecting an individual's human rights, health and wellbeing, so that they can live free from abuse, neglect or harm. Safeguarding is vital across many industries, but especially that of health and social care, and across childcare sectors.

Safeguarding children means promoting their welfare and protecting them from factors that could negatively impact their development or health. Safeguarding adults means protecting their human right to life, and ensuring their wellbeing is promoted so they can live free from neglect and abuse, and in safety – with their wishes, feelings and opinions honoured.

What is safeguarding?



In the context of health and social care and UK law, safeguarding refers to the set of measures and actions aimed at protecting the well-being, rights and dignity of individuals who may be at risk of harm or abuse.

Safeguarding applies to vulnerable adults, children and other people who may be receiving care or support services. Safeguarding involves a range of protective measures that are designed to identify and prevent physical, emotional and sexual abuse, as well as financial abuse, discrimination, neglect and exploitation.

Safeguarding is a legal duty and obligation under UK law for all organisations and professionals involved in the health and social care sector. This includes employers, care providers, healthcare professionals, social workers, teachers and voluntary workers. Legislation such as the Care Act 2014, the Children Act 1989 and 2004, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 outline specific responsibilities and frameworks for safeguarding vulnerable individuals.

Safeguarding involves taking steps including risk assessment, training and implementing policies and procedures to protect individuals. It also involves working with relevant agencies and local authorities, and responding quickly and effectively to concerns or incidents of abuse. Correct safeguarding practices create safe working and living environments, and promote the rights and health of individuals.

For instance, in November 2023, British Gymnastics banned coaches from weighing gymnasts as part of new safeguarding rules, after the 2022 Whyte Review found that emotional and physical abuse was 'systemic', with athletes having their bags searched for food in order to manage their weight. This is an instance of a lack of effective safeguarding, caused by a lack of fixed safeguarding rules and regulations in British Gymnastics to protect athletes' mental health and to prevent abuse.  

Legislation in relation to safeguarding adults



Understanding the following legislation is important for HR professionals and organisations in the health and social care sectors, so that they can uphold the highest standards of safeguarding.

The Care Act 2014

Under this act, local authorities have a responsibility to prioritise the well-being of individuals when giving care and support through local institutions. Well-being is defined by the Department of Health (2014), as personal dignity, physical and mental health. It also includes protection from abuse, and having the autonomy to undertake daily life tasks and participate in social activities.


The Sexual Offences Act 2003

This act aims to protect vulnerable people from sexual abuse. It prohibits sexual activity between care workers and those under their care, ensuring protection regardless of apparent consent or legal capacity.


The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006

This legislation led to the establishment of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), ensuring thorough background checks into people working with vulnerable people and children.


The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998

This law gives protection to whistleblowers, so they can raise concerns about practices in their social care workplace without fear of victimisation.


Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015

Under this law and the Mental Capacity Act, ill treatment or neglect by care workers is a criminal act. This important legislation aims to uphold good standards of care.



What is a safeguarding concern?

A safeguarding concern occurs when there is a suspicion that a vulnerable child or adult is at risk of harm. This can take the form of a suspicion, allegation, or indication that an individual may be at risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation or discrimination. Safeguarding concerns can stem from physical signs, behaviours, a disclosure of information from the affected individuals, or reports of incidents. The concerns can be related to physical, emotional, sexual, financial, or psychological well-being. They may involve potential harm from caregivers, family members, peers, or others in positions of trust.

In health and social care settings, identifying and responding to safeguarding concerns is essential to protect the rights and safety of vulnerable people. Swift, appropriate action is needed as soon as safeguarding concerns come to light. The concerns should be reported to social services or relevant authorities to mitigate risks and ensure the victim's well-being.

Examples of safeguarding concerns include:

  • Physical abuse (such as unexplained injuries).
  • Sexual abuse (inappropriate sexual behaviour, or assault).
  • Neglect (dehydration, malnutrition, untreated medical conditions and neglected personal hygiene).
  • Emotional abuse (verbal threats, humiliation, intimidation).
  • Financial abuse (use of a person's financial resources without permission).


Poor performance in safeguarding

The following are examples of poor performance in safeguarding:

  • A failure to recognise signs of physical and emotional abuse.
  • Delays or failures to report suspicious behaviour.
  • Poor risk assessment and inadequate protection measures.
  • Poor communication between staff members.
  • A failure to follow established safeguarding policies and procedures.
  • Disregarding or dismissing disclosures of abuse or neglect.
  • A lack of safeguarding training.


Safeguarding policies: what should they include?

A safeguarding policy should include:

  • Details of who is in charge of the safeguarding agenda.
  • Procedures for recruitment, including DBS checks (by the Disclosure and Barring Service).
  • Details for how to report and review concerns.
  • Details of how premises are kept safe to protect vulnerable people.
  • Responsibilities of staff.
  • Training on signs and symptoms of abuse.
  • A policy and procedures for whistleblowing.
  • Details of protection plans that are in place.
  • Contact details of how to report an incident.
  • Disciplinary procedures that occur when an incident happens or allegations are made.
  • Who is responsible for recording incidents.
  • Legal frameworks.


Conducting a safeguarding investigation

A safeguarding investigation needs to follow a thorough procedure. Here are some of the steps typically involved:


1. Initial response to the safeguarding concern

Designate a trained safeguarding lead within your company to oversee the investigation. They should be a neutral party with no conflict of interest. Record all initial information and observations regarding the concern and take steps to ensure safety of the individuals involved.


2. Risk assessment

A risk assessment will evaluate the level of risk posed to the vulnerable individuals, and will determine the severity of the situation. The assessment should include safety concerns, as well as the nature and frequency of the abuse.

3. Gather information and evidence

Take statements from the individuals involved, witnesses, and any relevant documentation or records. Ensure the utmost confidentiality during this process.


4. Reporting to authorities

Report the safeguarding concern to the appropriate local authority as per legal requirements. Individuals involved may also need to be referred for further support such as counselling, legal help or medical assistance.


5. Internal investigation

Following established policies and procedures, investigate and assess any factors that may have caused or affected the safeguarding concern. Interview relevant staff and examine any documentation to get a good understanding of the context. Let the investigation determine the appropriate course of action, including disciplinary measures, changes to policies and procedures, etc. Inform all stakeholders of the investigation outcome.


6. Follow-up

Monitor the situation and the actions taken in response to the safeguarding concern. Continue to make adjustments where needed. Continue providing care and support to those affected.



Process for safeguarding disciplinary hearings



If an employer has to follow disciplinary proceedings following a safeguarding concern, a disciplinary hearing should take place. This hearing will enable all sides to present their case before a decision is made.

Before the meeting, the employer should:

  • Inform the employee of the alleged misconduct or performance issue, along with evidence from its investigation and any additional information.
  • Give details about the date, time, and location of the meeting, and inform the employee that they have a right to bring a companion (a colleague/union rep).
  • Discuss potential outcomes and give a time frame for proceedings.

During the meeting, the employer should discuss the alleged misconduct or performance issue and present all evidence to support it. The employee should be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations to present their own evidence and witnesses. The employee's companion can also speak on their behalf and take notes.

Take time to consider the case before making a decision, including the seriousness of the case and the employee's work record. Keep written records of everything, as the employee has a right to appeal the decision.


We can advise on safeguarding policies, procedures, and disciplinary hearings

Our team of professionals at Neathouse Partners can answer any questions you may have about safeguarding laws. We can help your organisation to create a robust safeguarding policy, and advise on safeguarding investigations and disciplinary hearings.

Get in touch by calling 0333 041 1094 today or use our contact form.

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