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A way to restore British paediatricians’ engagement with child protection
  1. Ben Mathews1,
  2. Heather Payne2,
  3. Catherine Bonnet3,
  4. David Chadwick4
  1. 1
    Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
  2. 2
    Department of Child Health, Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, UK
  3. 3
    Paris, France
  4. 4
    La Mesa, California, USA
  1. Dr Ben Mathews, Queensland University of Technology, GPO Box 2434, Brisbane 4001, Australia; b.mathews{at}qut.edu.au

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Disciplinary actions brought by the United Kingdom General Medical Council (GMC) against doctors including the eminent paediatricians Sir Roy Meadow and David Southall have been monitored by concerned practitioners and scholars worldwide. In 2004 and 2005, the GMC made findings of serious professional misconduct against four doctors for their testimony in, and/or reporting of, cases of suspected child abuse, despite the doctors’ actions being in good faith.1 This appears to have had damaging consequences for the paediatric profession and, worse, for child protection. Evidence suggests that because of these high profile cases and mounting numbers of complaints, paediatricians are less likely to report suspected child abuse or accept child protection roles.2 3 Anticipated by international experts in 2006,1 this “chilling” of doctors’ willingness to report suspected child abuse and to work in key child protection jobs is now well underway. Since the dangers of complaints and discipline remain, this adverse impact on child protection is likely to be unaffected by the finding against Meadow being overturned,4 and Southall’s fitness to practise eventually being restored by the GMC on 21 September 2008 (a separate erasure appeal is still ongoing).5 These consequences may affect the general medical and nursing professions, and fields such as teaching, but even if they remain confined to paediatricians the problem still demands a solution. Drawing on international evidence, this article suggests how the chill can be thawed and child protection restored as a safe part of paediatricians’ work.

RECENT HISTORY

A national study in 2003–2004 by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) produced disturbing results.2 All 6072 members of the RCPCH were surveyed and there was a 78.7% response rate. Paediatricians involved in child protection work from 1995 to 2003 reported a fivefold increase in complaints about their actions regarding …

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