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‘I feel compromised without support’

I am the designated safeguarding lead in our team and we’ve had huge problems. One of the issues is that no one is really sure who to contact. 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.

Social services give you a contact centre number, meaning you’re often left on hold for long periods before being told to fill in a five-page online form. Half the time that form crashes.

Yesterday, at least two cases of child safeguarding came out in the course of consultations. I knew that speaking to someone would require me to stay an extra hour at work, but I wouldn’t feel happy if I left without dealing with these cases.

Patients on the child protection register rarely come with a document or a letter when they move to the area. It is often only by being candid and inquisitive that we find out there are ongoing issues. The lack of health visitors is another major problem. When I’ve called my local authority about a patient without a health visitor, I’ve been told my patch is not covered but ‘don’t worry, you are in the queue’. Moreover, mothers are being told to weigh their own babies, yet often it’s through these regular checks that you find out someone is vulnerable or depressed.

Most of the time as a GP you just want a human conversation with another professional who has seen the patient, to collaborate and share ideas. Often we just want reassurance – that is what we are losing. We need these allied services. Without them, I feel compromised as a safeguarding lead.

Dr Ayesha Sharieff is a GP in south London