– Every child visiting A&E to be logged in national database from 2015 (Guardian, Dec 27, 2012):
Every child who visits hospital accident and emergency departments or has out-of-hours GP consultations will be logged in a national database from 2015.
The child protection information system is designed to help doctors and nurses spot children who are suffering from abuse or neglect and avoid cases such as that of Baby Peter, said health services minister Dan Poulter.
Medical staff will be able to see if the children they treat are subject to a child protection plan, meaning they have already been identified as being at risk.
Doctors and nurses will also be able to check if a child has been a frequent visitor to A&E over a period of time – an indication of abuse or neglect.
Poulter said: “Doctors and nurses are often the first people to see children who are victims of abuse.
“Until now, it has been hard for frontline healthcare professionals to know if a child is already listed as being at risk or if children have been repeatedly seen in different emergency departments or urgent care centres with suspicious injuries or complaints, which may indicate abuse.
“Providing instant access to that information means vulnerable and abused children will be identified much more quickly, which will save lives. Baby P [Peter Connelly] and Victoria Climbié were both shocking and tragic cases.
“We want to do everything we can to stop them happening again. This is a huge leap forward and will give the authorities a fighting chance of identifying abused children much sooner.”
The Department of Health said there was no centralised instant access system to tell if children had frequently had urgent treatment or a profusion of suspicious injuries like bruising, scratches, bite marks and burns.
Under the new £9m IT project, when a child arrives and is logged in at an emergency department or urgent care centre, a flag will appear on the child’s record if they are subject to a protection plan or are being looked after by the local authority.
Doctors and nurses will be able to use this information as part of their overall clinical assessment, along with information about whether the child has previously received urgent treatment.
Responding to concerns that parents would be treated with suspicion every time they brought their child to be treated in an emergency, Simon Eccles, a consultant in emergency medicine at Homerton hospital in London, who helped set up the scheme, said it would simply make it harder for those who tried to hide abuse.
Interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme, Eccles said: “A minority of their parents or carers are taking real effort to make it difficult to join all the dots and they are going to lots of different places [to treat their child].
“The presence of multiple previous visits doesn’t tell you that this child is abused. Far from it. Some children are just accident prone. Some children are very unwell.”
He said teams of specialists, including nurses trained in child protection and consultant paediatricians, would still take final decisions to investigate cases further but the new system would help “escalate” concerns faster.
“This database isn’t trying to solve the entire problem. This is simply adding a layer of information that was previously hard to get and make it much easier to target the children who may need the most support and help, and indeed the parents who may need the most support or help.
Lisa Harker, head of strategy at the NSPCC, welcomed the announcement but warned that child protection training was still patchy.
“NHS doctors and nurses are often in the frontline of child protection and play a crucial role in identifying abuse victims as quickly as possible. So this new system for sharing information about children at risk should prove an important aid.”
“Of course it’s people, not databases, that can protect children. So, alongside this change, we would like the Department of Health to commit to improving levels of training in child protection across all healthcare settings.
“Current levels of training are patchy and the NSPCC is keen to work with the NHS to improve this.”
Amanda Thomas, officer for child protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “This solution is a positive step and an important part of the overall solution.
“The college has been involved with [the system] from an early stage and will continue to work with the Department of Health to ensure it is introduced effectively, integrates well with the working practices of NHS staff, and makes a genuine contribution to improving child protection practice.”