Healthcare workers should not have legal duty to report child abuse, says MDU
In response to a consultation paper from the Home Office, the MDU
said that registered healthcare professionals already have strict
professional guidance requiring them to act on concerns about child
Therefore, a legal duty for doctors to report and follow up on child abuse is unnecessary and may be a detriment to the children by introducing a delay, the MDU has said.
Healthcare professionals’ child protection duties are already
clearly set out in guidance from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC)
and the General Medical Council (GMC).
The MDU said that in their experience “doctors know their duty and do act in the best interests of children”.
Dr Ellen O’Dell, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: “Doctors already
have very clear professional guidance requiring them to act on concerns
about child abuse or neglect. These duties are far wider in scope and
explained in far greater detail than proposed legal duties.
“Our concern with a mandatory duty to report child abuse is that
rather than reinforce the existing ethical requirements, it would create
a new and different threshold. This may introduce confusion about
whether a case should be reported leading to a delay which would be to
detrimental to the child.
“Doctors understand the need to act in the interests of children,
and we believe the introduction of new sanctions wouldn’t improve
compliance among doctors who already act to protect children.”
The consultation from the Home Office, Reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect,
recommended the introduction of a “duty to act”, which would impose a
legal requirement on certain groups, including healthcare professionals,
“to take appropriate action where they know or suspect that a child is
suffering, or is at risk of suffering, abuse or neglect”.
The consultation says: “Our starting position is that practitioners
or organisations who undertake activities which bring them into close
and frequent contact with children could be within scope of any new
“This includes the delivery of education, childcare, social care and healthcare and law enforcement.
“Practitioners or organisations delivering these activities are well
placed to recognise risk factors, triggers of concern, and signs of
abuse and neglect, as well as protective factors, and are often the
first to recognise that the risk of harm to children has escalated to
the point that safeguarding procedures need to be implemented.”
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