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National Nursing Midwifery and Health Visiting Advisory Committee - Protecting the Vulnerable: Caring Enough?

DescriptionPrevention of abuse towards vulnerable patient population.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 10, 1999

Protecting the Vulnerable: Caring Enough?

Executive Summary

Any form of abuse is unacceptable but abuse that involves people who are temporarily or permanently dependent on others for their care is inexcusable; it could even constitute a criminal offence. It is manifest in a number of ways; from the very public breaches of care by professional staff to the less obvious but debilitating forms of abuse such as withholding information or disregard of physical frailty. Unfortunately, abuse can be found in all areas of practice and affects all age groups and both genders.

Nurses, midwives and health visitors* recognise the need to identify potential areas of concern, assess priorities for risk management in their specialty areas and work to minimise or eliminate the possibility of abuse. Prevention must be the overriding objective and, by confronting the potential for risk and providing plans for action, nurses aim to protect vulnerable patients and to guard against the vulnerability of their own professional practice.

As a result of concerns raised by nurses, the Chief Nursing Officer commissioned the National Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting Advisory Committee, (NNMHVAC), to set up a small working group ( Appendix 1) to consider the care of vulnerable patient populations in this context. The remit was:

'to establish guidance for nurses, midwives and health visitors involved in the care of vulnerable patient populations so that the potential for inappropriate attitudes and behaviours is recognised and appropriate action taken.'

The guidance contained in this report takes the form of general principles that apply throughout different care areas. The focus is on:

  • generating a definition
  • the identification of potentially vulnerable patient populations
  • identifying issues raised as a result of breaches of care
  • making recommendations
  • stimulating debate and raising awareness.

Whilst the recommendations are relevant to the whole of the nursing profession, the guidance is aimed at Directors of Nursing who are accountable for nursing practice. Practical guidance is offered to clinical managers for implementation through worked examples of good practice.

Throughout the report, the need for multi-professional approaches to vulnerability is acknowledged. Although the recommendations have been made for nurses, midwives and health visitors, they may also be of value to other professional and non-professional groups.

  • for the remainder of this document the preceding professions will be included under the inclusive term 'nurse'