Ethical considerations for health, social work and social care organisations
Organisations involved in health and social care as providers, employers, trainers, educators, researchers and/or user-led organisations have an ethical duty to provide an organisational context that enables social workers to develop their digital capabilities. The capabilities, as outlined in the Digital Capabilities Statement include maintaining privacy and confidentiality; eliminating biases in systems and processes; and promoting the involvement of people who use services in systems design and management.
It is recognised that for social workers to fulfil their ethical principles these organisations have corresponding ethical duties. There are existing codes and guidance for statutory health and social care organisations and the third sector, including:
- Digital Ethics Charter
- The Charity Digital Code of Practice
- Local Digital Declaration
- UK Government Digital Service Standards
- Principles for Digital Development
- Data Ethics Framework
- Data management and use: Governance in the 21st century
- Digital Social Care guidance
What should organisations do?
- Provide and maintain an organisational culture that enables social workers to develop and enhance their digital capabilities. This can be achieved through provision of training opportunities, continuing professional development (both self-directed and trainer-led) and supervision. These will enable social workers to gain the requisite skills and knowledge and critically reflect on required social work values.
- Have policies for decision-making on when the social networking sites of people who use services have to be accessed without their consent. In some cases, the online accounts of people who use services and their dependents need to be accessed to safeguard them. Organisations should have policies stating the circumstances in which this is permissible, the period of access and the person who authorises access. The responsibility to authorise should be commensurate with the person’s role and level of seniority.
- Underpin business processes with a transparent moral framework about what is ‘right’ and ‘good’ in their use of digital technology to discharge their functions. Over and above what is legally permissible, organisations need to pay attention to what will benefit social workers and people who use (or need) services.
- Seek to eliminate biases in their systems that have caused (or can cause) discrimination of people who have the 'protected characteristics' of the Equality Act 2010: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation.
- Ensure that they are adhering to the relevant statutory responsibilities in data and technology. Organisations have an ethical duty to provide the systems, policies and technologies that enable social workers to discharge their legal duties and supports them to meet professional codes of practice.
- Be proactive in seeking social work views on the digital systems they provide in the workplace and should have case management systems that are effective, user-friendly, responsive and adaptable.
- Respect the professional responsibilities of social workers to challenge the efficacy of new technology that has been procured. Organisations should have clear policies and procedures for seeking feedback from social workers and people who use services.
- Ensure that they make reasonable adjustments for staff to develop their digital capabilities to use available technology.