Care Guides > Duty of Care in Health and Social Care

Duty of Care in Health and Social Care

Female carer with two older adults

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

Duty of care revolves around individual wellbeing and complying with the correct practices. Nurses, carers in a care home and anyone else in the health and social care sector have a legal duty of care to ensure others are kept safe.

Read on to find out what duty of care is, why it's so important and the steps you can follow to create a duty of care policy.

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In this article:

  1. What is duty of care?
  2. Duty of care in health and social care
  3. Why does a duty of care in health and social care matter?
  4. Is it a legal requirement?
  5. Follow these steps to create a duty of care policy

What is Duty of Care?

Having a duty of care means being responsible for the health, safety and wellbeing of others. This is a moral and legal obligation, and a common example is protecting the safety of your team members while at work.

Duty of care applies to healthcare, education, public services and even personal relationships. For instance, a doctor has a duty of care to provide an excellent standard of treatment and teachers have a duty of care to keep their students safe and protected.

By taking the necessary steps, you’ll minimise the risk of potential harm as much as possible. A breach - where you don’t take these reasonable precautions - can lead to a harmed reputation, along with ethical and legal consequences.

Duty of Care in Health and Social Care

The four responsibilities of duty of care in health and social care are:

  1. Wellbeing (promoting this where possible)

  2. Welfare (protecting people from harm, abuse and injury)

  3. Compliance (following regulations and rules relating to the duty of care)

  4. Good practice (taking an effective and proven approach to care)

In health and social care settings, a duty of care means:

  • Providing safe and compassionate care - Healthcare professionals - like carers - have a duty of care to provide safe, compassionate and competent care to their residents or patients. They must use their skills and knowledge to ensure high-quality care is given at all times

  • Safeguarding vulnerable individuals - You have a particular responsibility to protect vulnerable individuals, including children, the elderly and people with disabilities, from harm or abuse. If you spot a potential sign of abuse, you must report it

  • Maintain confidentiality - Maintaining confidentiality around personal data is really important. The personal information of residents and patients should be kept secure and only accessed when necessary

  • Providing a safe environment - As a health and social care worker, you have a duty to create a safe environment for residents, patients, visitors and other members of staff. This includes ensuring equipment works properly and keeping all areas clean

Older adults in a carers centre

Duty of care to others

When working in a healthcare setting, you have a duty of care to the people you’re looking after (such as care home residents), along with other carers and members of staff.

If you were working in a hospital, you’d have a duty of care towards:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Healthcare support workers
  • Other types of workers, including receptionists, cleaners, caterers and staff in charge of maintenance

Code of Conduct

Duty of care forms part of the Code of Conduct for Healthcare Support Workers and Adult Social Care Workers in England.

This Code of Conduct explains how you’ll be expected to act to provide a duty of care to residents, patients, visitors and other members of staff. When applying for a job in the health and social care sector, this usually forms part of the job description.

Alongside the Code of Conduct, you must:

  • Identify any potential areas of concern
  • Report these concerns through the agreed channels of communication

What could cause concern?

  • General health and safety - Including unsafe equipment, poor working conditions or unsafe working practices

  • The safety of individuals - If child and adult protection procedures aren’t in place. Any members of staff should be given the appropriate training before undertaking any responsibilities that could put them at risk

  • Fire safety - This could be caused by proper procedures not being followed, or staff being unaware of what to do in the event of a fire

  • Food safety - Members of staff, such as in a care home, should be fully aware of all safety procedures relating to food production before they begin in this role

Another area for concern is if your organisation has developed a reputation for inequality, discrimination, bullying, violence or harassment.

Reporting any concerns and handling complaints

Reporting concerns and handling complaints is a large part of fulfilling the duty of care in a place where care is provided.

The legislation for complaints within health and social care is the Local Authority Social Services and NHS Complaints (England) Regulations 2009. The regulations set out through this legislation explain the legal requirements for NHS organisations and the social care departments of local authorities when dealing with complaints.

If you wish to make a complaint or raise concerns at work, this should be made in line with your organisation’s agreed procedures. If you’re unsure about this, be sure to speak with your manager.

When responding to a complaint, you should give the individual making the complaint the support they need. Record this complaint as soon as possible, or inform your manager.

Older and younger woman having a discussion at a desk

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Other roles and responsibilities relating to duty of care

  • Management - As a manager, you have a responsibility to create a safe and secure environment for residents, patients and staff. This includes complying with industry standards and regulations, conducting risk assessments, protecting people from discrimination and responding to any incidents of harm or abuse

  • Healthcare professionals - In a care setting such as a hospital or nursing care home, healthcare professionals have a duty of care to patients or residents. They must provide safe and effective care, while also reporting any concerns or worrying incidents to management

  • Carers and social care workers - Carers have a duty of care towards residents living in their care homes. As a carer, you must help create a safe and caring environment. You should also promote independence through a variety of meaningful activities

  • Support staff - Support staff includes cleaners and chefs. These employees have a duty of care to ensure the care facility remains safe and secure, such as maintaining equipment and keeping the environment hygienic

  • Families and caregivers - If your loved one lives in a care home, or if you’re a carer for a family member, you also have a role to play in the duty of care. If you have any concerns about their health or wellbeing, you should communicate this with a member of staff or manager

  • Regulatory organisations - Regulators, such as the Care Quality Commission (England) or Care Inspectorate (Scotland) are responsible for enforcing industry standards of care within care homes. This includes inspections to ensure duty of care obligations are being met


An advocate in health and social care is a trusted person who acts independently of the NHS or local councils. They’ll ensure your or your loved one’s views and wishes are properly expressed, heard and understood.

An advocate can:

  • Support you in making important decisions
  • Help you better understand your rights
  • Show you how to access various health services
  • Help you explore which options are available to you

The Care Act 2014 states that the advocacy duty applies to carers and people receiving care alike. This act also states that local authorities have a legal duty to arrange an independent advocate on your behalf if:

  • There isn’t anybody else to support and represent yourself or your loved one
  • You’d benefit from some extra support, as you may find being fully involved in the care process overwhelming

Older and younger woman using a laptop together

Why Does a Duty of Care in Health and Social Care Matter?

Within the health and social care sector, duty of care is a legal requirement.

Duty of care in the health and social care sector means:

  • People are made aware of their rights, and these are advocated for where possible
  • People are defended from harm, abuse and injury
  • Excellent wellbeing is encouraged

You must also protect anyone in your care and provide the highest level of support:

  • Protecting vulnerable individuals - Many people who are looked after in care settings such as care homes or hospitals are considered vulnerable individuals. Duty of care ensures these individuals are protected from harm, with their wellbeing a top priority

  • Quality of care - Duty of care requires healthcare professionals and other carers to provide a level of support which is safe and effective. Carers and medical professionals should use their knowledge to make accurate diagnoses, prescribe the right treatments and ensure excellent follow-up care is given

  • Legal, moral and ethical obligations - By meeting their duty of care obligations, people working in the health and social care sector can uphold a professional reputation while avoiding any ethical issues that could otherwise occur

  • Building trust and confidence - Residents and patients are much more likely to put their trust in healthcare organisations such as care homes if the care they provide is safe, compassionate and dignified

In the UK, health and safety laws are regulated by the Health and Safety Executive. Meanwhile, many duty of care laws in the United States are set at the state level.

In the UK, employers are legally obliged to minimise potential threats to wellbeing by providing their employees with training, equipment and any necessary information. Employees are also partially responsible for keeping themselves and their co-workers safe from harm.

What happens if you break a duty of care?

Breaching duty of care obligations can have wide-reaching consequences for your organisation. These will often be financial or reputational, while legal and ethical consequences may also arise.

This is why it’s so important to follow all the points we’ve explained in this article.

Breaching a duty of care can result in the following consequences:

  • Legal liability - If a care breach has affected someone, they or their loved one may seek legal action to cover any harm caused

  • Criminal charges - Breaching the duty of care may lead to criminal charges. This could be the case if the breach involves intentional harm or a different kind of criminal behaviour

  • Professional discipline - If somebody in the health and social care field - such as a nurse in a nursing care home - has failed to meet their duty of care obligations, they could face disciplinary action, including suspension or having their licence revoked

  • Ethical and moral consequences - By breaching the duty of care, your or your organisation’s reputation could be harmed as a result, leading to a lack of trust from others

Follow These Steps To Create a Duty of Care Policy

There are several key steps you should follow to create a duty of care policy:

1. Identify the policy’s purpose - Begin by identifying the purpose of the policy, as well as its scope. This includes who the policy will cover, any specific responsibilities which will be addressed and the reasons for creating it

2. Develop this policy - The policy should outline the duties and responsibilities of individuals and organisations, along with the procedures that need to be put in place to meet these responsibilities

3. Define the key terms - The policy should define key terms related to duty of care, including harm, risk and negligence. Everyone must understand these terms and their implications

4. Give guidance and training to your team - Each member of your team should understand what needs to be done to meet their duty of care obligations. You should therefore provide any guidance or training to achieve this. This is especially true of healthcare professionals and social care workers

5. Communicate this policy to stakeholders - Once your duty of care policy has been fully developed, it should be communicated to any relevant stakeholders, including healthcare professionals, care workers, residents, patients and family members

6. Monitor compliance, responsibility and accountability - By consistently monitoring the policy you’ve created, you’ll be able to track whether it’s been effective in achieving its goals. At this point, you can also establish who is responsible for ensuring which regulations are adhered to. To ensure the policy remains up-to-date, relevant and effective, it should be regularly reviewed as well

We’re on a mission to support individuals and their loved ones throughout each stage of their later living journey. For more information, check out everything Lottie has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the four responsibilities of duty of care?

The four responsibilities of duty of care are individual wellbeing, welfare, compliance and good practice.

What is the common law for duty of care in the UK?

Through common law, employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees aren’t put at unnecessary risk. This applies to physical and mental health alike.

What is a breach of duty?

When a breach of duty occurs, it means somebody’s conduct has failed to meet the proper standard of care. A breach of duty is known as one of the four elements of negligence.

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