Vulnerable Adults



All adults (aged 16 and over) at risk of harm have the right to be safe and protected.

Harm is defined broadly and includes physical harm, self-harm, psychological harm and unlawful conduct affecting property, rights or interests. Harm can be caused by another person, or the adult themselves.

An adult at risk is defined as somebody who:

  • Is unable to safeguard their own well-being, property, rights or other interests
  • Is at risk of harm, and
  • Because of ‘disability, mental disorder, illness or infirmity’ are more vulnerable to harm than other adults.

The Act requires councils, social work, health care and other public bodies to work together to support and protect adults at risk. This involves taking appropriate steps to decide if somebody is at risk of harm and balance the need to intervene against the person’s right to live independently.

What action to take

Patients who you consider as potentially vulnerable or at risk require same-day referral to the appropriate agency.

If the matter is urgent then the relevant Emergency Service should be contacted (Police/Fire/Ambulance).

In less urgent circumstances a Social Care referral should be made. Practically, this would involve contacting duty Social Care (usually by phone) and referring your patient as an adult at risk. They will take details of the patient and your concerns. This then places a duty on the social care service to make inquiries and assess the situation.

It is good practice to discuss the referral with the patient and seek consent. Situations where patients with capacity decline referral are complex and should be discussed with senior colleagues.

Following a referral to Social Care, an Adult Protection Case Conference may be arranged. This is a regular meeting between the professionals involved in a person’s care, including social worker, healthcare workers and any other relevant agencies. These multi-disciplinary meetings aim to collate information, assess progress and risk, and agree an action plan.

Last reviewed: 21/02/2024

Next review date: 21/08/2024

Author(s): Higher Trainee in Psychiatry, NHS Lothian & Medical Education Fellow, NHS Lothian.

Author email(s):

Reviewer name(s): Medical Education Fellow, NHS Lothian.