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How ContactPoint and information sharing will help support children

GP Dr David Jones, a member of the Department for Children, Schools and Families' Information Sharing Advisory Group, explains why practices may need to share information with schools, social workers and youth workers.

GP Dr David Jones, a member of the Department for Children, Schools and Families' Information Sharing Advisory Group, explains why practices may need to share information with schools, social workers and youth workers.

As a GP it is essential to keep patient case information private, in line with the legal and ethical requirements of confidentiality, and not to disclose information without patient consent. As a result, many GPs feel that information sharing is an area that does not fit comfortably with their professional obligations.

However, ensuring the best outcomes for children – whether that relates to health, social or educational issues – often means that GPs may need to share relevant information with schools, social workers, youth workers or youth justice departments.

Information sharing and collaborative working enables a more complete picture of a person's needs, which allows for earlier and more effective intervention. This in turn leads to faster and more coordinated delivery of services, which can improve the care provided to children and young people.

In the medium to long term, this may also help reduce the demands made of GPs by ensuring health issues are dealt with early. It has therefore never been more important to understand the principles behind sharing information while continuing to maintain patient confidentiality. To assist GP's and other practitioners in this, the Government has issued guidance (Information Sharing: Guidance for practitioners and managers) which offers clarity on when and how information can be shared legally and professionally.

However, identifying other professionals working with a child can be a challenge. It can mean ringing round to establish who is or is not involved – something few of us will have time for. To help overcome this, the Government has taken a significant and important step by introducing a new online directory for those working with children and young people – ContactPoint. This basic directory provides a quick way for an authorised user to find out who else is working with the same child.

ContactPoint holds basic information (name, address, gender, date of birth and an identifying number) for every child in England up to their 18th birthday. Also held on the system are the name and contact details for each child's parents or carers, their current school and GP practice. It is therefore important that GPs and staff in GP practices are aware that they will receive calls from other practitioners working with a child and that they know how to handle these requests.

Again, the aforementioned information sharing guidance should help with this.

Crucially, ContactPoint is subject to multiple levels of security to ensure that only authorised users have access. All users must have security clearance including an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check and training after which they will receive a user name, a password, a PIN and a security token.

A limited number of practitioners in the North West started using ContactPoint earlier this year. It will start to be made available to GPs and other practitioners across the rest of England in the coming months. Over time, as the tool is introduced, GPs should find it increasingly simple to liaise with other professionals working with a child or young person to coordinate the support provided.

GPs who are interested in finding out more about ContactPoint should contact their Local Authority ContactPoint team. Further information is also available in the ContactPoint section of the DCSF website.

For more on information sharing and to download or order the cross-government Information Sharing: Guidance for practitioners and managers go to www.dcsf.gov.uk/ecm/informationsharing/.

Dr David Jones, GP and member of the Department for Children, Schools and Families' Information Sharing Advisory Group Dr David Jones, GP and member of the Department for Children, Schools and Families' Information Sharing Advisory Group

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