Whistle-blowing and social media get focus in revised social work conduct standards

The Health and Care Professions Council published updated standards as government seeks to introduce new body for social workers

Social workers must report concerns about the safety of service users and be open when things go wrong, according to revised standards of conduct published today by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Three new standards

  • Communicate appropriately and effectively

This standard covers communicating with service users and carers and working with colleagues. It also for the first time makes specific reference to social media.

It states: “You must use all forms of communication responsibly and appropriately, including social media and networking sites.”

  • Report concerns about safety

“You must report any concerns about the safety or wellbeing of service users promptly and appropriately.

“You must support and encourage others to report concerns and not prevent anyone from raising concerns.

“You must make sure that the safety and wellbeing of service users always comes before any professional or other loyalties.

“You follow up concerns you have reported and, if necessary, escalate them.

“You must acknowledge and act on concerns raised to you, investigating, escalating or dealing with those concerns where it is appropriate for you to do so.”

  • Be open when things go wrong

“You must be open and honest when something has gone wrong with the care, treatment or other services you provide by:

-informing service users or, where appropriate, their carers that something has gone wrong


-taking action to put matters right if possible

-making sure service users or, where appropriate, their carers, receive a full and prompt explanation of what has happened and any likely effects.”

The HCPC said reporting concerns about safety was an individual duty, while the new standard on being open when things go wrong concerned a general duty to contribute to a culture of openness within an organisation.

These are the generic standards of conduct, performance and ethics that apply to all 16 professions regulated by the HCPC.

Open and honest

The introduction of the duty to be open and honest follows the report of the Francis Inquiry into Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, which proposed that health and care professionals should have a ‘duty of candour’.

The HCPC said registrants were expected to tell service users and carers when they became aware that something had gone wrong with the care, treatment or other services that they provide, and to take action to put matters right wherever possible.

Its previous standards did not include a specific requirement about informing service users and their carers where mistakes or errors are made.

Social media

Michael Guthrie, director of policy and standards for the HCPC, said the standard on social media was designed to make it clear that communication on social media should be seen as the same as any other form of communication, and decisions around what is appropriate to share should be made accordingly.

The HCPC is due to develop more specific guidance for registrants around the use of social media in the coming months.

The HCPC’s standards set out in broad terms what is expected of social workers, both by service users and fellow professionals.

New body

Social workers will continue to adhere to the HCPC’s standards while awaiting more information about the development of a new body to drive up standards, announced by education secretary Nicky Morgan earlier this month.

Morgan said a new approach to the regulation of social workers was needed. But the HCPC said it had not been given any information about when or how this will be brought in.

HCPC chief executive Marc Seale said the organisation believed more information would be given in the Queen’s speech in May.

Social worker and HCPC council member, Robert Templeton, said the process of developing the new standards had flagged up not just how the HCPC affects social work practice, but also how social workers had changed the HCPC since being included on its register in 2012.

Templeton said the inclusion of social workers in the HCPC’s list of registered professions had driven the organisation to do more to consult service users and carers in developing its standards.

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One Response to Whistle-blowing and social media get focus in revised social work conduct standards

  1. loiner January 27, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

    about time but it is already law just makes it clearer