GPs could be better utilised to help address the large number of child maltreatment cases not being reported and adequately dealt with in the community.
This is one of the conclusions of a joint report published by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), the NSPCC and researchers from UCL and the University of Surrey.
The authors of the report – The GP’s role in responding to child maltreatment – believe that GPs are ideally placed to spot early warning signs of child maltreatment and to work with families to prevent abuse from getting worse. Giving family doctors the time, support and autonomy to work with vulnerable families in the community – as well as referring cases to social care services – could benefit children and families in the short and long term.
The NSPCC estimates that for every one child subject to a child protection plan there are another eight not receiving services. The report suggests that GPs are well-placed to work with other front-line professionals to act on concerns about issues such as child neglect and emotional abuse.
This could include providing long-term support and monitoring of children and other family members, as well as advising parents in regard to their own health issues that could affect relationships with their children, such as alcohol abuse or mental health problems.
The report calls on governments and policy makers to re-think the role of GPs and maximise the potential of the crucial doctor-parent and doctor-child relationships to create a public health approach of early intervention to reduce child maltreatment.
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: "Caring for children and their families is a major part of a GP’s work and we are pleased that today’s report acknowledges the unique skills and expertise of family doctors in this crucial area.
"GPs do the best they can to ensure that children are kept safe and well. By recognising early signs of strain in children and their families, which may involve physical or emotional symptoms, GPs can be of real help and in some cases help prevent situations or conditions getting worse.
"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."
Professor Simon de Lusignan, University of Surrey, said: "As a practising GP involved in this research I understand how front-line pressures prevent GPs from having the time to fully explore complex social and family issues that impact on a child’s health and wellbeing.
"Reorganising care so that there is more time given to those who need it - in this context, children who are at risk or who are maltreated – can only improve general care and help keep families together and children safe from harm.
"GPs are the first service many families in this position encounter and without the right support and investment they will fall at the first hurdle. I urge policy makers and senior managers to make the necessary changes so that the recommendations put forward by the RCGP and NSPCC are put into practice."