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Mr Robert Wheeler

What does vulnerable adult mean?

From the perspective of UHS, a vulnerable adult is a patient who is or may be for any reason unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation.

It is important to note that no mention of capacity or competence appears in our definition. Whilst it is clear that any patient who lacks capacity will by definition be vulnerable, many patients with capacity may still be unable to take care of themselves, or unable to protect themselves from significant harm or exploitation; often due to the infirmity that lead them to become patients in the first place.

Please also note that a vulnerable adult with capacity is perfectly entitled to refuse to let us pass on their personal details to other agencies. Irrespective of the clinical viewpoint of the situation, we must first make it clear to the patient that they may be disadvantaged by this non-disclosure; but providing they have capacity to make this decision, we must abide by their wishes. (It is accepted that under certain circumstances disclosure is mandatory, such as declarations to the DVLA, but you will understand that this note applies to broader principles of clinical practice.)

However, an adult in this situation cannot control the disclosure of information to other agencies relating to children for whom they have responsibility. If it is in the child’s interest for other agencies to be aware of family circumstances, for instance relating to domestic violence, the parent's refusal must not prevent disclosure.