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There are many reasons why it may be necessary to involve a health professional. The adult may need a review of their medication, they may have developed further health issues or they may not be eating properly. The rules surrounding medical ethics are very clear:

The right to refuse a medical examination

Everyone has the right to refuse any medical intervention and the adult must be made aware of their right to refuse before any medical examination.

Exceptions to this would be:

  • In an emergency situation – for example if the adult’s life is at risk
  • If there are grounds to suggest that the adult is unable to understand why they need help.

Only a health professional (doctor, nurse or psychiatrist) can conduct a medical examination. 

Who can access medical records?

Medical records can only be examined by a health professional and only records relating to a particular concern may be examined.

The right to refuse support

It’s not uncommon for a vulnerable person to refuse help. Often this is because they don’t understand that they are at risk or that the support offered is in their best interest.

However, whilst an adult considered to be at risk has the right to refuse help, the council also has a duty to protect them.

When an adult refuses support, this doesn’t necessarily mean the council will automatically end their activity. The council and its partners will still work together to offer any advice, assistance and support to help manage any identified significant risks. However, the success of any intervention where an adult does not wish to cooperate may be limited as a result. Any support will be in proportion to the risks and will consider any need to support carers.


I think my neighbour is being neglected. What do I do?

Contact your local social work department as soon as possible. You might save their life.

I think someone may be being harmed but I'm not sure.

It’s important that you share your concerns with your local social work department who will investigate further. It’s better to be wrong than to be silent.

Find out more about different types of harm.

Does the act only protect people who are 'at risk'?

Yes. The Act is specifically designed for adults at risk who are aged 16 or over and live in Scotland. There are specific criteria which defines ‘at risk’.

However, there are laws in place to protect everyone in Scotland. These organisations can help. 

What happens when harm is reported?

The council will investigate and if necessary, step in and take measures to protect and support the adult, normally only with their consent. The issue will be dealt with sensitively and confidentially. 

Do I have to give my name?

No, you can report your concerns anonymously. However, it is helpful if you are able to leave your details so that information can be clarified later, if required.

Can I report harm that's happening to me?

Yes, and please do. There are people ready to help you.

What rights does an adult at risk have?

Adults at risk have the same rights as everyone else

What happens when an adult who needs help refuses it?

They have every right to refuse.

Can the council access information without permission?

The adult’s consent should be obtained, wherever practicable and possible. If consent cannot be obtained – for example, if the situation is urgent and obtaining consent would cause undue delay – the adult should, if possible, be informed about this afterwards.

Who can look at medical records?

Only a medical professional such as a GP, nurse or psychiatrist. 

Doesn't this act discriminate against people with disabilities?

No. Having a disability and being ‘at risk’ are completely different. The majority of disabled people are not at any kind of risk. The Act defines people at risk and provides further information regarding a person's rights. 

Contact your local social work services for help

Find your local contact

Or find other organisations that can help