This site is intended for health professionals only

Healthcare workers should not have legal duty to report child abuse, says MDU

14 October 2016

Share this article

Healthcare professionals do not need to have a legal duty to report child abuse, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has said.

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 abuse.

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 statutory measure.

“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.”