Child protection – everyone’s responsibility

Not only do doctors and dentists have a professional obligation to act on any concerns they may have about the safety or welfare of a child or young person - they risk allegations of misconduct in failing to do so.

THE recent GMC case into the conduct of the GP responsible for the care of Daniel Pelka has again highlighted issues in relation to child abuse. This four-year-old boy died in 2012 after having been abused over a period of time by his mother and her partner, both of whom were given life sentences for his murder.

The GP in question faced serious allegations and investigation by the GMC in relation to his professional involvement. These included a failure to act adequately when presented with information that the patient may be a victim of maltreatment and was at significant risk, failure to arrange an urgent examination and failure to share the information with the local safeguarding lead, social services or any other relevant organisation. The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) panel found that the GP’s conduct in this matter amounted to misconduct. This serves as a reminder of what is expected of doctors in relation to matters of child protection. Dentists too have responsibilities in this area.

Healthcare professionals are usually vigilant when the possibility of child abuse arises, but timely intervention is necessary. This case highlights the serious risk to the child involved and the professional consequences which will arise. The MPTS panel did not find that the doctor’s fitness to practise was impaired, but their finding of misconduct nonetheless shows that such matters are regarded very seriously.

As a body of professionals we have a duty to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of children and young people. The GMC makes it very clear that the responsibility to act on concerns about children lies with every doctor. In Good Medical Practice, paragraph 27 states: "Whether or not you have vulnerable adults or children and young people as patients you should consider their needs and welfare and offer them help if you think their rights have been abused or denied."

This is further expanded upon in Protecting children and young people, clarifying that this means "all doctors must act on any concerns they have about the safety or welfare of a child or young person".

The GDC states in its Standards for the Dental Team: "You must raise any concerns you may have about the possible abuse or neglect of children or vulnerable adults. You must know who to contact for further advice and how to refer concerns to an appropriate authority such as your local social services department. You must find out about local procedures for the protection of children and vulnerable adults. You must follow these procedures if you suspect that a child or vulnerable adult might be at risk because of abuse or neglect."

ACTION: Be sensitive to the welfare of children and young people and ensure you are aware of the appropriate local personnel, policies and procedures in relation to matters concerning child abuse.