Doctors should talk to children as young as five alone if they suspect they are at risk of neglect or abuse, under new guidance.
By Rebecca Smith, Medical Editor
7:00AM BST 03 Sep 2012
The General Medical Council has issued new advice for doctors on child protection urging them to report any fears, even just a hunch, to superiors.
Mothers suffering post-natal depression, those using drink or drugs and with violent partners could need to be questionned carefully about children in their care, it was said.
If doctors think a child is holding back information out of fear, they should talk to them alone, the guidance said, even children as young as five.
Doctors treating adults still have a duty in child protection because they should be aware of children in the household who may be at risk.
The guidance, Protecting Children And Young People: The Responsibilities Of All Doctors, which comes info force today was welcomed by parent groups.
A survey by website Netmums, which the GMC commissioned, found that 94 per cent of parents agreed that doctors had a duty to find out if a child was at risk – even when they were only treating adult patients.
Some 1,500 people responded to the survey that looked at their experiences of when their child was taken ill or injured and how they thought doctors should act if they suspected abuse or neglect.
The survey also found that almost all respondents (99%) said doctors should take steps to find out whether a child was at risk if they thought that parents were taking illegal drugs or abusing alcohol.
Of these, two thirds said doctors should raise child protection concerns with parents, while a similar number felt further advice should be sought from a senior colleague before doing so.
More than 90% said they wanted their doctor to alert them immediately if they were concerned their child was at risk of abuse or neglect.
More than eight out ot ten of respondents said doctors should take action if they suspected their child was being neglected or abused but had no proof.
Of these, more than half felt that doctors should raise child protection concerns with parents and more than half felt that doctors should talk to the child.
The GMC has also produced a short guide for parents to help them understand what they can expect from their doctor when child protection concerns are raised.
Reporting concerns to senior doctors in child protection does not necessarily mean action will be taken, however it should help piece together a jigsaw of information if similar fears had been raised by other professionals such as teachers, GMC officials said.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “Child protection is a difficult area of practice, complicated by uncertainty and often very emotionally challenging.
“Parents and carers need to have full confidence that if there are any issues raised about the safety of their child, their doctor will take the right course of action.
“Part and parcel of this is making sure that doctors communicate properly with both parents and children to convey any concerns they may have.
“Our new guidance will help guide doctors toward making the correct decisions in this challenging but essential area of work.”
Sally Russell, co-founder of Netmums, said: “It’s not surprising to see that almost all who responded to the survey would want their doctor to talk to them immediately if they had any such suspicions.
“It is great to see that the GMC is providing guidance on the crucial issue of child protection, and that it has underlined the importance of being open with parents.”
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