Doctors get child protection advice
New guidelines have been launched to help doctors protect children from abuse and offer support to those wary of reporting any concerns.
The General Medical Council (GMC) said the guidance was developed following worries in parts of the profession that high profile cases and fear of complaints from parents were deterring some doctors from working in the area, and deterring other doctors from raising child protection concerns.
The guidance 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."
Called Protecting Children And Young People: The Responsibilities Of All Doctors, the GMC said the new guidance had come about following the efforts of a two-year working group chaired by senior family judge the Rt Hon Lord Justice Thorpe after hearing evidence from a range of child protection experts.
It will be issued to more than 230,000 doctors across the country, and says: "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."
Support should be given to doctors who have worries about a child or young person and every trust will have a named or designated professional or lead clinician (Scotland), and all doctors should know who they can turn to if they need advice, according to the new guidelines.
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 judgments in a charged atmosphere. The decisions made or not made as a result can have far-reaching consequences. 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."
Dr Amanda Thomas, child protection officer at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, welcomed the new guidance and said it provided a valuable framework for doctors. She added: "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."