GPs who disclose information in suspected child abuse cases should inform the parents they have done so, even if it was without their consent, according to draft GMC guidance.
Publication of the new guidance follows last year’s announcement that new GP commissioning groups are to take on statutory responsibility for child protection. In the wake of the Baby Peter case, the official inquiry called for general practice to become the ‘hub of paediatric care.’
The GMC guideline working group, which includes one GP, says doctors should aim to identify risk factors for child abuse or neglect, including parental alcohol or drug misuse or violence.
The guidance, entitled Protecting Children and Young People: the responsibilities of all doctors says that when a doctor discloses information to child protection teams, they should first try to obtain the parents’ consent, give ‘open and honest’ answers to their questions and inform them of any progress in the investigation.
The parents’ consent may not be sought if it increases the risk to the child or ‘undermines the purpose of the disclosure,’ it adds.
It adds: ‘Confidentiality is not an absolute duty. Where a child or young person is at risk of, or is subject to, abuse or neglect, the potential consequences of not sharing relevant information will, in the overwhelming majority of cases, outweigh the harm disclosure might cause.’
A foreword to the guidance reassures doctors that they will not be censured by the GMC if they act reasonably in response to concerns about abuse or neglect.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘We recognise that taking action to protect children from abuse can be challenging and distressing for everyone involved. This is a complex area of practice, but we believe this new guidance will provide greater clarity about what doctors need to do to protect children, even if they are uncertain about the risks involved. We hope it will also help give doctors confidence to make these extremely difficult decisions.’