Duty of care is a very important aspect of working in health and social care, so it is essential that you understand what it is, what your responsibilities and how it affects your job role.

In this comprehensive guide, everything you need to know about duty of care will be explained.

What is duty of care?

Duty of care can be defined as the moral and legal responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing as others, especially those that are vulnerable.

What does this mean for a care worker?

As a care worker, you have the duty of care to look out for the safety and wellbeing of the individuals that you look after. Some examples could be:

  • reporting broken or unsafe equipment to your employer
  • serving food that is in line with an individual’s dietary requirements
  • ensuring a wheelchair-user is correctly strapped into their wheelchair
  • making sure an individual’s bills are paid on time

Anything that you do (or omit to do) that causes harm to an individual in your care could result in legal or disciplinary action being taken against you, providing there is evidence that organisational agreed ways of working were not followed and the harm could have been reasonably foreseen.

For example, if an individual is allergic to peanuts and you inadvertently serve them food containing peanuts, resulting in them becoming ill, you will not have fulfilled your duty of care and could be disciplined or even prosecuted. However, if you had no way of knowing about their allergy (for example, if it wasn’t recorded in the individual’s care plan) then it would be your employer or other responsible person(s) that has not fulfilled their duty of care.

Your duty of care is also relevant for things that you are not directly responsible for. For example, if an individual has unexplained bruises on their arms or you suspect that they are being abused then you should report this immediately.

Duty of care is about acting in the best interests of the individual.

Dilemmas between duty of care and an individual’s rights

Although you have a duty of care towards the individuals that you care for, they will usually have the right to make their own choices – there are exceptions such as if an individual is detained under the mental health act or has a deprivation of liberty safeguard (DOLS), however most individuals are free to make their own decisions.

This can result in dilemmas between duty of care and an individual’s rights.

For example, if an individual has a tight budget and is clinically obese, you would probably advise them not to have a takeaway every night for both health and financial reasons. You may sit down with them and explain the possible consequences of them eating expensive and unhealthy food in a way that they can understand and make an informed decision. These would be examples of you exercising your duty of care.

However, if they ultimately decide to spend their money on takeaways, you should respect their choice despite our reservations – you can’t forcibly withhold their money or dictate to them what they can eat as this would contravene their liberties under the Human Rights Act 1998.

You should ensure that you make a record of what you have done and inform your manager of the situation. It may also be prudent to contact the individual’s GP or dietitian with their consent.

In this case, if the individual were to become even more ill from eating unhealthily or could not pay their rent due to lack of funds, it would be evident that you have done everything within your power to exercise your duty of care correctly.

Duty of candour

Duty of candour is the legal responsibility of healthcare providers to be transparent and own up when they make mistakes, apologise, explain what happened and do what they can to make it right and provide support.

It is similar to duty of care because it is promoting an open and honest care system where providers and individuals are accountable for their mistakes and do what they can to fix them and learn from them/