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Clinical law: what do paediatricians want to know?
  1. Robert Wheeler,
  2. Francesca Stedman,
  3. Nigel J Hall
  1. Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Wheeler, Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton SO 16 6YD, UK; robert.wheeler{at}

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Clinical ethics committees (CECs) set out the lawful and ethical treatment options available to clinicians, dealing with a steady trickle of cases concerning the care of children in hospitals. It became apparent some years ago that many less contentious (elementary, but relevant) enquiries were not being aired in our CEC, perhaps because the enquirers perceived the questions to be of insufficient gravity. But such enquiries were oft repeated, such as: ‘Who can give consent for this child’s treatment?’

While in the absence of an answer (or an opinion) children were safely treated, the feeling nevertheless endured that their clinical management would be enhanced by the support of a clinical legal service, which was set up in 2009.1 The service was initially focused on children’s hospital care, but within three months encompassed adult practice within the hospital and the local community.

Here we report the enquiries concerning the legal aspects of clinical care of children, for the attention of their doctors. During these 13 years, 434 enquiries were made, among the total of 1349 enquiries derived from all age groups.2 The prospective collection of data began immediately with our department of clinical law taking enquiries from any member of a regulated clinical profession.

It is likely that a similar number of referrals, in proportion to the total patient population, would be encountered in any UK centre providing an equivalent service. Most enquiries originated locally, some from other UK centres and a few from abroad; the responses are based solely on English law. The local referrals included those from our CEC. In addition, there have been a few referrals from community, social and primary care. A series of around 100 short summaries of clinical legal dilemmas are available in the website library.3 The 12 500 or so annual visits may …

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  • Contributors RW wrote the first version of the text, and NJH heavily amended words and order. FS added the section on promulgation and provided text and table amendments. All authors provided subsequent editing/word reduction.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.