GPs are ‘ideally placed’ to spot the warning signs of child maltreatment and work with families to stop them getting worse, an RCGP report has said.
The report, jointly produced by the RCGP, NSPCC and researchers from UCL and the University of Surrey, calls on policymakers to ‘rethink’ the role of GPs to make the most of their opportunities for early intervention in cases of suspected child maltreatment.
It concludes that GPs, as a first and on-going point of contact for families, should take a ‘leading role’ in addressing the social and emotional issues relevant to health, including being given the autonomy to work with other front-line professionals to act on concerns of child neglect and emotional abuse
The RCGP has already worked with the NSPCC on a child safeguarding toolkit for GPs, which is due to be updated and released later this year. However, the children’s charity has warned that too many cases of child maltreatment are still not being detected or dealt with in community settings. They estimate that for every child subject to a protection plan, there are eight who go unprovided for in the community.
This could include offering advice to families about health issues that could affect their children, such as alcohol use, as well as ‘advocating for parents to help them find their way through the health and social care systems’.
The RCGP is currently campaigning to extend GP training from three to four years and for training to include an additional focus on child health and mental health.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said that while paediatric health is a priority for GPs, only half of trainees GPs in the UK have the opportunity to undertake specialist paediatric placements during their training, a situation she described as ‘unacceptable’.
Dr Baker said: ‘Today’s report strengthens our case, and we hope it will prove to be a turning point in how society approaches and cares for our children and young people and their families in the future.’
She added: ‘General practice itself is in a state of crisis with GPs heaving under the pressures of ballooning workloads and plummeting funding. We are calling on the four governments of the UK to ensure that general practice receives 11% of the NHS budget by 2017. This would allow us to recruit more GPs and offer more services and appointments for patients of all ages.’