Children taken to A&E or out-of-hours doctors are to be logged in a national database to help medical staff identify youngsters who may be suffering abuse or neglect.
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter announced the changes, saying that he hoped the new system would prevent a repeat of tragedies such as Baby P and Victoria Climbie, two children who died at the hands of abusers.
A £9m child protection information aystem will enable medical staff to see if children they treat are subject to a child protection plan. The system will indicate if a child has already 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, or has required urgent care a number of times in a specified time period. The new measures will be rolled out in 2015.
Dr Poulter said: “Doctors and nurses are often the first people to see children who are victims of abuse.
“Up 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 and Victoria Climbie 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.”
A database had existed previously after it was set up by the Labour government, but was shelved in 2010. Labour claims the coalition undermined child protection by axeing the database.
The Department of Health said that it is introducing the new system because currently it is difficult to tell if children have frequently required emergency treatment for injuries such as bruising, scratches, bite marks and burns.
Under the new system, when a child arrives and is logged at an emergency department a flag will appear on the child’s record if they are subject to a child 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 where and when children have previously received treatment.
Dr Amanda Thomas, officer for child protection at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, welcomed the measures. She 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.”
The plans were also welcomed by Lisa Harker, head of strategy at the NSPCC. She said: “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.”