We reported on the GMC Guidance on protecting children and young people in our August Health Legal Update which came into effect on 3 September 2012. The guidance followed a two year working group consultation about guidance for doctors when suspicions of child abuse arise. Mills & Reeve participated in the development of this important guidance by responding to the consultation.

The guidance advises doctors on:  

  • Their duty to identify the risk of abuse to children and young people, even when they are not their patient
  • Balancing parental freedoms with child protection concerns
  • The importance of communication with children, parents and families when there are child protection concerns
  • How to balance respecting confidentiality with sharing information
  • Good record keeping practice
  • Seeking consent before conducting child protection examinations
  • Developing an understanding of the work of other professionals involved in child protection
  • The need for continuous training and skills development in this area
  • Duties when acting as a witness of fact and as an expert witness in court  

In relation to confidentiality versus information sharing, the guidance emphasises the importance of asking for consent to share information unless there is a compelling reason not to do so. For example, this could be the case if it is justified in the public interest or required by law. Additionally, the guidance emphasises the need to make sure that notes relevant to keeping a child safe are available to other clinicians providing care to them.

The issue of child protection examinations is explored in some detail in the guidance. This will be of particular help to clinicians who can find this to be a deeply sensitive issue which must be addressed with caution.  

The guidance aims to reassure clinicians who may otherwise be nervous about raising concerns of abuse of children or young people for fear of making a mistake. The guidance states that even if the concerns are not founded, doctors will be justified if they can show the concerns were held honestly and reasonably. It will be interesting to see how the use of this guidance develops in practice.