Issues of confidentiality and information sharing between mental health staff and carers of people using mental health service can be complex and difficult to resolve. Family members, loved ones and friends often say that they feel excluded and ignored by staff, and sometimes this can have serious consequences for them or the people they support.
There are some key areas where confidentiality can be an issue:
- If the person using services does not consent to information being shared with the carer.
- Mental health staff not being confident in dealing with the complexities of confidentiality, leading to them giving no information at all.
- Professional codes and legal frameworks.
- Carers becoming stressed and frustrated, especially in a crisis, which may give staff a distorted view of how things usually are.
Whilst information given to staff by a person using services cannot be disclosed without their consent, this cannot prevent staff from engaging with carers, receiving information from them, listening to their views or from giving a carer information, advice and support.
In general, staff should:
- Identify any carers
- Determine if the person using services has capacity to decide not to share information
- Agree what information can be shared and with who (eg by using Advance Statements)
- Record consent details and review these regularly
- Explain to carers and people using services what information can be shared and what information cannot.
- Consider the potential harm of not sharing information with a carer (eg hospital discharge arrangements, medication).
- Offer one to one time to carers
- Advise the carer if they are named on the person’s care plan.
- Be fully aware that some information may be shared without consent, such as information needed to safeguard children or vulnerable adults.
Providing general information about mental health issues or offering emotional and practical support to a carer does not breach confidentiality. This could include:
- Confidentiality restrictions requested by the person using services.
- The role of each professional involved in the person’s care.
- Contact details of local or national carer support organisations.
- Contact details of health or social care professionals.
- Any discharge arrangements which directly impact on the carer.
- How to access help and support, including out of hours service contacts in the event of a crisis.
- Information about the workings of the Mental Health Act/Mental Capacity Act.
- Background information on medication.
Anyone with concerns about carers and confidentiality should contact their local service provider, as there may be specific policies in place.