Vulnerable Adults

Interviewers may at times encounter people who might be described as vulnerable. It could be that a project is focusing on a person or group of people who have a particular history, for example they may have been residents in a mental handicap hospital or mental health institution. It may also become evident, during the course of an interview that the interviewee is not wholly aware of the implications of what they are taking part in. For these reasons it is important to be aware of responsibilities regarding vulnerable adults.

A vulnerable adult is someone over the age of eighteen who is deemed vulnerable by reason of old age, infirmity or disability (this includes mental disorder within the meaning of the Mental Health Act 1983) and is unable to take care of themselves or to protect themselves from others. People most likely to be regarded as vulnerable are adults who: are mentally and physically frail for reasons of age; have mental health problems; have a physical or sensory disability; or who have a severe, incapacitating physical illness. Vulnerability may be permanent or temporary.

Guidance to the Mental Capacity Act (2005) sets out five ‘statutory principles’ which underpin the legal requirements in the Act. These make it clear that any acts or decisions taken should protect people who lack capacity and also maximise their ability to make or take part in decision-making. This process may be helped by the preparation of specially designed information and consent forms (there is an example here).

The five ‘statutory principles’ are:

  1. ‘A person must be assumed to have capacity unless it is established that they lack capacity.’
  2. ‘A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision unless all practicable steps to help him to do so have been taken without success.’
  3. ‘A person is not to be treated as unable to make a decision merely because he makes an unwise decision.’
  4. ‘An act done, or decision made, under this Act for or on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must be done, or made, in his best interests.’
  5. ‘Before the act is done, or the decision is made, regard must be had to whether the purpose for which it is needed can be as effectively achieved in a way that is less restrictive of the person’s rights and freedom of action.’
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