GPs must record concerns promptly and should attend all child protection conferences and case reviews in person, says GMC guidance on child protection published today.
The guidance urged all GPs to ‘cooperate fully' with child protection procedures and to attend meetings in person even if they are arranged at short notice.
Released today, the guidance clarifies doctors' responsibilities in protecting children from abuse or neglect and advises where they can turn for support if faced with suspected cases of mistreatment.
It says despite the inconvenience of rescheduling appointments or finding a locum to cover missed work as GPs can share unique insights into a child's or young person's family.
The guidance reads: ‘If you are asked to take part in child protection procedures, you must cooperate fully… If meetings are called at short notice or inconvenient times, you should still try to go.'
It adds: ‘If this is not possible, you must try to provide relevant information about the child or young person and their family to the meeting, either through a telephone or video conference, in a written report, or by discussing the information with another professional (for example, the health visitor) so they can give an oral report at the meeting.'
It also urges GPs to record any concerns that they have in the child or young persons' records and their parents (if these can be accessed) and that they should be written at the time that the events happen or as soon as possible afterwards.
The report says: ‘It is particularly important that records relating to the possible abuse or neglect of a child or young person are full, accurate, dated and timed, and distinguish between clinical findings, your opinions and information provided by others.'
It added that if any information is shared a record should be made of who it was shared with, why it was shared, whether consent was given, and if confidential information was shared without consent, give a reason for this decision.
If there is not enough evidence to support claims of abuse, this should also be recorded and it should be explained to the child or young person and their parents why this will remain on their records.
Dr Catherine Wills, a medico-legal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, said she welcomed this guidance on whether to disclose confidential information.
She said: ‘Doctors who call the MDU are often concerned that they are raising valid concerns to the appropriate agency. The new guidance from the GMC acknowledges that doctors taking action will be justified, even if it turns out that the child isn't being abused or neglected, as long as their concerns are honestly held and reasonable and they take action through appropriate channels.'
Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: ‘We are clear though that doctors must raise their concerns if they believe a child or young person may be at risk of abuse or neglect - and this applies whether or not the child is their patient. They also need to know who to contact for advice if they do have any concerns.'
‘We very much hope doctors will find this guidance useful, not least in making clear what is expected from them in this critically important area.'