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GP pleas to help vulnerable patients ignored by ‘disintegrating’ social services

Exclusive GPs are referring more vulnerable children and adults than ever for protection against abuse or neglect, but Pulse can reveal that their concerns are often going unheard.

A Pulse investigation reveals a 15% increase in primary care referrals about safeguarding concerns to child and adult social services after new guidance came in following the infamous case of Baby P.

But a Pulse survey of over 800 GP readers found a third say they are unable to access social services support and 42% experience unacceptable delays when referring vulnerable adults and children. GPs told Pulse that they were unable to get hold of social workers and this is leaving vulnerable members of society at risk.

Pulse obtained figures obtained from local authorities in England through an FOI request, which showed a 4% increase in safeguarding referrals for children to social services between 2013 and 2016, and a startling 33% increase in referrals for adults over the same time period. Overall, the increase was 15%.

The investigation comes five years after a serious case review into the death of Baby P highlighted that he was seen by a GP before he died from his injuries.

The reports on the deaths of Baby P and Victoria Climbie concluded GPs and practice staff should refer earlier in cases of suspected abuse. This approach has now been formalised by the CQC, which is enforcing a regime of regular training and procedural checks in practices.

But Dr Ayesha Sharieff, GP and safeguarding lead for her practice in South London, said her team had ‘huge problems’ getting in touch with social care. She told Pulse: ‘When you have a child in front of you who is on the child protection register, it is almost impossible to get hold of their social worker. Often, they’ve left the job or are off on stress-related leave – that may reflect the cases they have and the volume of work.’

Another GP from Hampshire, who asked not to be named, says: ‘They never reply and you have no idea what, if anything, has been done.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes Lampard said: ‘It’s frustrating – but this must not be used as an excuse to scapegoat social workers. We need a properly funded health and social care sector with general practice, hospitals and social care all working together.’

But GPC regulation lead Dr Robert Morley said the Pulse figures showed what was happening ‘across the country’. He added: ‘GPs are becoming the scapegoats of first choice for failures elsewhere in a system that is rapidly disintegrating.’

Margaret Willcox, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: ’We welcome the increased awareness of safeguarding by GPs and are aware of an increase in concerns coming to councils’ attention.

’It is important that people’s frustrations with referral systems, where valid, are addressed swiftly and effectively.

’The appropriateness of responses can be a subjective issue, but if GPs believe that a response is unsatisfactory or inappropriate, there are ways of escalating their concerns to better understand any issues and consider better alternatives. GPs should also raise any concerns about appropriate responses via the CCG safeguarding leads.’