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New GMC child protection guidance for doctors

Doctors must consider when treating an adult whether they pose a risk to a child

Ingrid Torjesen

Monday, 03 September 2012

New guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) to help doctors protect children from abuse and neglect comes into effect today.

The GMC’s guidance, Protecting Children And Young People: The Responsibilities Of All Doctors, was produced following 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 makes clear 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 a patient's environment that might raise concerns about abuse or neglect, the guidance says. They must also listen to parents and children, recognise parents’ understanding of their children and keep an open mind about the possible cause of an injury or other sign that may indicate abuse or neglect.

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.”

The publication of the guidance, 'Protecting Children And Young People: The Responsibilities Of All Doctors', coincides with a survey by website Netmums - commissioned by the GMC – which revealed that 94% of parents believe that doctors have a duty to find out if a child is at risk - even when they are only treating adult patients.

The survey asked 1500 parents how they thought a doctor should react if a child was taken ill or injured and abuse or neglect was suspected. More than 90% said they wanted their doctor to immediately alert them if they were concerned their child was at risk of abuse or neglect.

An overwhelming majority (86%) of respondents said that doctors should take action if they suspected their child was being neglected or abused but had no proof. Of these, over half (55%) felt that doctors should raise child protection concerns with parents and more than half (55%) felt that doctors should talk to the child.

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