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The current difficulties facing paediatricians working in child protection have already been well documented.1–3 Studies have shown that as well as causing significant stress and psychological morbidity,4 complaints against UK paediatricians in relation to a child protection issue are becoming increasingly common.5 A survey of members of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) found that 13.8% of over 4500 respondents had been subject to a total of 786 complaints about child protection and that the number of complaints per year had increased from less than 20 in 1995 to over 100 in 2003.6
Although worrying, the finding that the number of child protection complaints rose fivefold in 4 years needs to be set in context. Over this same period there were still almost twice as many paediatricians with a non-child protection complaint against them, and information from the Medical Defence Union shows that complaints to the General Medical Council increased almost 15-fold between 1990 and 2003, an annual rise of 33%.7
If we are now more likely as a society to complain about any aspect of our medical care than we were a decade ago, why are child protection complaints of particular importance? The answer we believe is threefold. Firstly, the rising level of complaints is clearly making the paediatricians that society relies upon to protect vulnerable children feel demoralised and disengaged. The evidence is clear: 29% of paediatricians who have experienced a complaint are reluctant to take a future lead role in child protection,7 there are continuing recruitment difficulties in community paediatrics,8 9 and paediatric trainees are reluctant to consider a job with specified child protection responsibilities.10 However, the impact of complaints is not just felt by those who “specialise” in child protection. Protecting children is …
Funding: The qualitative research into child protection complaints referred to in this paper was funded by the RCPCH as part of on-going initiatives to support doctors working in child protection.
Competing interests: None declared.