Regulating doctors, ensuring good medical practice


New GMC child protection guidance comes into effect

Press Release

03 Sep 2012

New guidance from the General Medical Council (GMC) to help doctors protect children from abuse and neglect comes into effect today (3 Sept).

Our new guidance will help guide doctors toward making the correct decisions in this challenging but essential area of work.

Niall Dickson, the Chief Executive of the GMC

The guidance - issued to more than 230,000 doctors – has been designed to give doctors the confidence to act when they need to and makes clear where they can turn to for support.

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 comes as a survey by website Netmums - commissioned by the GMC - revealed that 94% of parents agreed that doctors have a duty to find out if a child is at risk - even when they are only treating adult patients.

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 that 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 (66%) said doctors should raise child protection concerns with parents, while a similar number (63%) felt further advice should be sought from a senior colleague before doing so
  • 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.

The guidance 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.

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.

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.

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.’

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

‘When a doctor suspects a child may be the subject of abuse, the prospect of communicating this to parents can be daunting.

‘This new guidance should give thousands of doctors the confidence to raise these concerns and help communicate them in the best possible way to parents.’

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’

To read the guidance visit: www.gmc-uk.org/childprotection