GMC launches new guidance to help doctors protect children from abuse

Published on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 08:15
Posted by Scott Buckler

The General Medical Council (GMC) has today issued new guidance to every doctor in the UK to help them protect children from abuse or neglect

The guidance, Protecting children and young people: the responsibilities of all doctors, is aimed at supporting doctors who have to deal with a wide range of complex child protection issues.

It makes clear the responsibilities of doctors in this area and advises where they can turn for support. It states that:

  • If doctors are treating an adult patient, they must consider whether the patient poses a risk to children or young people.
  • Doctors must be able to identify risk factors in their environment that might raise concerns about abuse or neglect.
  • Doctors should get support if they have concerns that a child or young person may be at risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Every Trust has a named or designated professional or lead clinician (Scotland) and all doctors should know who they can turn to if they need advice.In sharing concerns about possible abuse or neglect, doctors must remember that they work within a wider team of professionals, all of whom have a responsibility to keep children safe from abuse.

The guidance also includes new advice for doctors on information sharing, working in partnership with other agencies, consent for child protection examinations and acting as a witness in court.

Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC, said:

'Child protection is a complex and emotionally challenging area of practice for any professional, and doctors in particular can find themselves having to make difficult and delicate judgements in a charged atmosphere. The decisions made or not made as a result can have far reaching consequences.

'We are clear though that doctors must raise their concerns if they believe a child or young person may be at risk of abuse or neglect - and this applies whether or not the child is their patient. They also need to know who to contact for advice if they do have any concerns.

'We very much hope doctors will find this guidance useful, not least in making clear what is expected from them in this critically important area.

'Doctors who make child protection decisions based on the guidance will be able to justify their actions if a complaint is made against them - provided their conclusions are honestly held and have been pursued through the appropriate channels.'

The guidance has been developed following concerns in parts of the profession that high profile cases and fear of complaints from parents were deterring some doctors from working in this area and deterring other doctors from raising child protection concerns.

It states: 'It is vital that all doctors have the confidence to act if they believe that a child or young person may be being abused or neglected.

'Taking action will be justified, even if it turns out that the child or young person is not at risk of, or suffering, abuse or neglect, as long as the concerns are honestly held and reasonable, and the doctor takes action through appropriate channels.'

A two year long working group chaired by senior family judge the Rt Hon Lord Justice Thorpe produced the guidance after hearing evidence from a range of child protection experts. It will now be issued to more than 230,000 doctors across the country.

Lord Thorpe, an appeal court judge and Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales, said:

'I was delighted to be asked to chair the GMC's working group on child protection. It is an area of work where doctors have had concerns and required more clarity, so as a group, I hope that we have helped to develop guidance which doctors will find reassuring and helpful especially when giving expert evidence to the courts.'

Paediatricians and leading child experts today welcomed the guidance.

Dr Amanda Thomas, Child Protection Officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

'This guidance is timely, easy to read and navigate and provides a valuable framework for doctors, giving them the tools to act on their concerns. We're pleased to see that it addresses all doctors – because whether they have a specific safeguarding role or not, every doctor has a responsibility to protect children. What's crucial now is that the guidance is embedded in practice and the partnership working it promotes across the healthcare profession becomes a reality.'

Shaun Kelly, Head of Safeguarding at Action for Children, added:

'Doctors have an important role to play in the safeguarding of children and young people. We welcome this new guidance by the GMC that will support doctors carrying out this vital duty.'

Source: ©GMC

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