Protecting children and young people: The responsibilities of all doctors



This guidance is concerned with children and young people from birth until their 18th birthday (see the definitions of children, young people and parents of this guidance).


General Medical Council (2013) Good medical practice London, General Medical Council, paragraph 42.


References to ‘parents’ in this guidance include people who care for or look after children or young people. This might include carers, other family members or adults who live in the same household (see the definitions of ‘children’, ‘young people’ and ‘parents’ of this guidance).


Department for Children, Schools and Families (2018) Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children Nottingham, HM Government.


The Scottish Government (2021) National guidance for child protection in Scotland 2021 Edinburgh, The Scottish Government.


Area Child Protection Committees (2005) Regional child protection policy and procedures area Child Protection Committees.


General Medical Council (2007) 0–18 years: guidance for all doctors London, General Medical Council.


General Medical Council (2017) Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information London, General Medical Council.


General Medical Council (2020) Decision making and consent,  London, General Medical Council.


The professional standards describe good practice, and not every departure from them will be considered serious. You must use your professional judgement to apply the standards to your day-to-day practice. If you do this, act in good faith and in the interests of patients, you will be able to explain and justify your decisions and actions. We say more about professional judgement, and how the professional standards relate to our fitness to practise processes, appraisal and revalidation, at the beginning of Good medical practice.


The Equality Act 2010 specifies nine protected characteristics that cannot be used as a reason to treat people unfairly. These are age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.


For guidance on competency see the intercollegiate report on safeguarding children and young people.


In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, designated and named professionals have specific roles and responsibilities for protecting children and young people. In Scotland, the lead clinician carries out this role. When we refer to an ‘experienced colleague’ in this guidance, we mean a colleague who has experience in making decisions about the safety and welfare of children and young people but is not a named or designated professional or a lead clinician.


For more information see the Munro review of child protection.


You should follow the guidance in Confidentiality: good practice in handling patient information when sharing information with other agencies.


For guidance on the levels of knowledge that are appropriate for different roles, see the intercollegiate report on safeguarding children and young people.


See our guidance on personal beliefs for advice on male circumcision. Female genital mutilation – sometimes referred to as female circumcision – is a serious crime and a child protection issue. Multi-agency practice guidelines and procedural guidance for mandatory reporting for England and Wales have been published by HM Government. Multi-agency guidelines for Northern Ireland have been published by the Northern Ireland Executive. An FGM Action Plan has been published by the Scottish Government.


In England and Wales doctors are under a legal duty to report known cases of female genital mutilation in girls and young women aged under 18 to the police. HM Government has published two guidance documents on FGM: Multiagency practice guidelines: female genital mutilation and Mandatory reporting of female genital mutilation: procedural information


It is not always straightforward to assess whether there is a legal requirement to disclose information. If in doubt, you should seek legal advice. If disclosure has been ordered by the court, and you are unsure about the relevance of information or records, you should seek clarification from your instructing solicitors or the court.


See appendix 1 to this guidance for advice on assessing capacity. There is more guidance in 0–18 years: guidance for all doctors.


For example, serious case reviews in England and Wales, significant case reviews in Scotland, case management reviews in Northern Ireland, inquests and inquiries, and inquiries into sudden or unexpected child deaths.


For example, multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA) in England, Wales and Scotland and public protection arrangements in Northern Ireland (PPANI). See paragraph 71 of Confidentiality for further guidance.


If you are not sure whether information is relevant and whether or not to share certain information, see paragraphs 42 - 52 of 0–18 years: guidance for all doctors.


See our guidance on maintaining boundaries.


See appendix 1 to this guidance for advice on assessing capacity.


Covert recordings (recordings made without the patient’s knowledge or consent) can only be made in exceptional circumstances. For advice and information, see our guidance Making and using visual and audio recordings of patients and Safeguarding children and young people: roles and competences for health care staff.


Also see guidelines on HIV testing of children who have parents with confirmed or suspected HIV infection


See Ministry of Justice Civil Procedure Rules London, The Stationery Office, rule 35.3, Ministry of Justice Criminal Procedure Rules London, The Stationery Office, rule 33.2, Act of Adjournal (Criminal Procedure Rules) 1996, Criminal Justice (Evidence) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, Ministry of Justice Family Procedure Rules London, The Stationery Office, rule 25.3, Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Rules 1996


This includes your views about a patient's lifestyle, culture or their social or economic status, as well as the characteristics protected by legislation: age, disability, gender reassignment, race, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.


The same principle applies where a doctor acts in a role other than as a witness – for example, as an adviser in a case.


The Right Honourable Justice Wall (2007) A handbook for expert witnesses in Children Act cases Bristol, Jordans, 2nd edn


See Oldham MBC v GW & Ors [2007] EWHC 136 (Fam).


See Family Law Reform Act 1969, Age of Majority Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991, Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000, Mental Capacity Act 2005, Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech AHA [1985] UKHL 7


See section 1(1)(b)(ii) and section 1(2)(b) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.