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UK Doctors Need Better Guidelines on Child Protection

Current UK rules create conflict between legal requirements and duty of care

FRIDAY, Sept. 5 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors involved in child protection cases in the United Kingdom may find that they are caught between their duty of care to the child and their legal requirement to seek parents' consent to treatment, according to an editorial published online Sept. 4 in BMJ.

David Foreman of the Isle of Man government in the United Kingdom, and Juliet Williams, a barrister in Southampton, U.K., write that under medical law the doctor's duty is to the parent, which in child protection cases may be in conflict with the doctor's duty of care to the child. Moreover, there is little guidance available to doctors as to how to resolve this conflict and avoid sanctions for breach of care.

Foreman and Williams note a 500 percent increase in complaints against pediatricians related to child abuse work between 1995 and 2003, and that since 2003 there has been an increase in registrations for emotional abuse and neglect, but a decrease for physical or sexual abuse.

"This suggests that pediatricians may be avoiding work related to abuse, for which more detailed physical examinations are needed. If so, this is bad for children," the authors write. "The general public needs to be better informed about the reality of everyday child protection work, so that the necessary compromises implicit in such procedures are better understood."

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