In a landmark case, the Court of Appeal yesterday (31/07/03) ruled that children wrongly diagnosed as suffering from child abuse could sue doctors or social workers. However, the judges said the parents of such children did not have this right.
The case was brought by three families who claimed they had suffered psychological distress after being falsely accused of abusing their children.
But the Medical Defence Union (MDU) responded by reminding doctors that it was their obligation to report suspected child abuse cases to the authorities. And it warned that doctors were vulnerable to criticism if they suspected child abuse was taking place but did not act upon their suspicions.
The union advised doctors that, where they had reason to believe that a child may be at risk of harm, they should report concerns to the relevant authorities without delay.
Dr Hugh Stewart, medico-legal adviser at the MDU, said, "Doctors have a professional and ethical duty to report suspected child abuse to the relevant authorities and it is vital that they are not deterred from doing so as a result of this judgment."
He added, however, that child abuse was a very sensitive area, and doctors often reported facing a difficult dilemma about whether their concerns were founded.
The Department of Health recently published guidance for health and social care staff working with children. The "What To Do If You're Worried A Child Is Being Abused" document was in response to the Victoria Climbie Inquiry report, which criticised weaknesses in child protection procedures.
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Last updated: 08/06/2003 - 07:25 AM