What does our guidance say?

Child protection is a difficult area of practice, but if you are concerned about a child then you need to act following the principles in our guidance.

This includes advice on identifying children who may be at risk and how to appropriately share information about your concerns. It also has guidance for doctors who may need to carry out child protection examinations or give evidence in court.

Our guidance relates to children and young people from birth until they turn 18. References to ‘parents’ mean people with parental responsibility and other people who care for, or look after, children and young people.

I am concerned about a child, what should I do?

Decisions about child protection are best made with others. If you are worried about a child you should discuss your concerns with colleagues, the local child protection lead or with other agencies that can provide expert advice. You can always seek some initial advice without disclosing information that identifies your patient.

You should work with parents and families where possible to make sure children receive the care and support they need. But, if the wishes of the parent(s) may put the safety of the child at risk, you must put the interests of the child or young person first.

You must tell an appropriate agency promptly if you are concerned a child is at risk, unless there are exceptional circumstances which mean you think it would not be in the child’s best interests to do so. An appropriate agency might be your local authority children’s services, the NSPCC or the police. You should get to know how to contact the named or designated child protection lead for your organisation or area.

If you are a GP, our short guide for GPs (pdf) summarises the key parts of the guidance likely to be the most useful to you. It is not intended to replace the full guidance.

What about my patient’s confidentiality?

Children and their families have a right to receive confidential treatment and care, but this must not prevent you from sharing information if it is necessary to protect children from abuse and neglect.

You don’t need to be certain a child is at risk of serious harm to share information about them with the safeguarding lead or an appropriate agency. The possible consequences of not sharing information will almost always outweigh any possible harm sharing information might cause.

You must ask for consent to share information unless there’s a compelling reason not to, for example, if you think that doing so might increase the risk to the child. You can share information without consent if it is required by law or justified in the public interest.

We have a flowchart for making the decision to share information when you have child protection concerns (pdf) to help with this.

I only work with adults, do I still need to know about child protection?

You must consider the safety and welfare of children, even if you don’t work directly with children. If you only work with adult patients, you may become aware of a risk to a child and will need to know what to do to.

When you care for an adult patient they must be your first concern, but you also have wider duties. You must also think about whether your patient could pose a risk to children, and if necessary, you must act to protect those at risk.

You’ll need to be familiar with the risk factors for abuse and neglect, and with local procedures for protecting children, including who your named or designated child protection lead is and how to contact them.

Our short guide for doctors who work with adult patients (pdf) highlights the parts of the full guidance that are most likely to be relevant if you do not work with children. This does not replace the full guidance, but you may find it useful as a reminder of the key points.

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