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Online child abuse alert system ‘cautiously welcome’ by Cheltenham MP

By laura_enfield  |  Posted: December 27, 2012

MP Martin Horwood

MP Martin Horwood

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AN ALERT system to help hospital staff spot child abuse has been 'cautiously welcomed' by Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood.

Plans for the £9 million Child Protection Information System were announced today by Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter .

It will be developed next year and rolled out to NHS hospitals in 2015

Doctors and nurses in emergency departments or urgent care centres will be able to check online if children are known to be at risk or had emergency medical treatment previously.

Mr Horwood said it would help them spot potential 'patterns' of abuse and could save lives. He said: "In disturbing cases such as Baby P information was missed and hopefully a system like this will protect against that.

"But we also need to make sure  the civil liberties of families are protected and we aren't giving professionals too much power.

"So this is a cautious welcome."

The government says abuse can be identified earlier if medical professionals are given the wider picture.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said:"Up until now, it has been hard for frontline healthcare professionals to know if a child is already listed as being at risk or if children have been repeatedly seen in different emergency departments or urgent care centres with suspicious injuries or complaints, which may indicate abuse.

"Providing instant access to that information means vulnerable and abused children will be identified much more quickly – which will save lives."

Maggie Arnold, director of nursing for Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We take our responsibility to children in our care extremely seriously, and understand that communication between those involved in the care of a child can be vital in identifying potential issues.  Five years ago we installed a bespoke system in our Emergency Departments and the county's Minor Injuries Units which enables staff to view previous admissions, register concerns and identify patients who may be at risk."An NHS-wide system will clearly build on our developments so far and we welcome any system which helps us safeguard those patients who need our help the most."

Liberal Democrat Mr Horwood said medical staff had a 'duty of care' to help save children's lives but would have to walk a 'fine line' when using the system.

"There maybe the temptation to use it too freely.

"I have been involved in cases where two different groups of professionals have very different views.

"There things are not always clear cut.

"I know a family who was subjected to a horrendous ordeal because of one injury their child suffered.

"It was completely innocent and they were cleared of any wrong doing but they were terrified their child was going to be taken away."

Lisa Harker, head of strategy at the NSPCC, said the new system could be an 'important aid' but did not go far enough.

She added:"It's people not databases that can protect children.

"So, alongside this change, we would like the Department of Health to commit to improving levels of training in child protection across all healthcare settings.

"The skills of health professionals in recognising early signs of neglect and abuse is key to saving lives.

"Current levels of training are patchy and the NSPCC is keen to work with the NHS to improve this."

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  • Chas_Townley  |  December 28 2012, 6:49PM

    Many years too late - just a shame that this coalition shower cancelled Labour's contact point which was about to go live as they came to power.

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  • Coingrass  |  December 28 2012, 6:28PM

    Nine million quid . . . developed next year . . . rolled out in 2015. More likely 30 million quid, developed over the next three years, abandoned in 2018.

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  • CTFCScout  |  December 28 2012, 5:03PM

    Shire Me, some very good points. I used to think that David Icke was a bit nutty, but now I am really considering a change of mindset. This does sound like the state controlling children and telling parents what they can/can't do. Social Workers will be rubbing their mitts with glee - more families to break up and more money for them. Oh, but one suspects they will only break the good ones up as they'd be too scared to go into rough areas for fear of being attacked. After coming home from an evening game at Tuffley Rovers, I saw a girl about three years old in her parents garden with nothing on below the navel. I shouted to her dad but all I got was a barrel-load of incoherent abuse and 'mind my own business.' I told the NSPCC and they admitted that nobody would go down to Tuffley as the last person to go down there ended up in hospital...

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  • ShireMe  |  December 28 2012, 12:24PM

    Interesting idea and useful in principle however the more clued-up members of the public will have to wait til the issue is less of a political football so we can get better informed spokespersons than ministers explaining it. A few musings on the practicality of the system: 1) is there an expectation that genuinely abusive parents will be less likely to seek medical attention for their children due to the introduction of this system. the Victoria Climbie abuse is often thrown around in the context of this system but AFAIK the "failure" to prevent it would not have been ameliorated by such as system due to NHS professionals not being involved in her life during her abuse. 2) what safeguards will be put in place to prevent the inevitable damage that would occur from accusations of abuse due to "false positives" being flagged on the system. 3) Could the system engineer the behaviour of non-abusive parents to the detriment of the life-quality of their children? E.g. Parents become paranoid about granting their children any time to play in case they cause themselves injury and therefore cause false suspicion to fall upon themselves? 4) ballpark figures - what will be the expected ratio of false positives to true positives and has the estimated cost of legal action been calculated into the first 5 years of running costs of the system. 5) how much IS the estimated annual running costs of this system as well as the capital cost?

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  • CTFCScout  |  December 28 2012, 2:15AM

    More big brother intrusion or a necessary evil? The problem will be that abusive parents will avoid taking their children to hospitals, for fear of being caught and sent to prison. Also, not all abuse is physical. A couple near me are involved in porn and drugs, and neglect their young children by leaving them on their own for days. Yet, when I've rang the NSPCC, they are not interested at all. I think it says a lot about the NSPCC that Peter Mandleson is now their Chairman...

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  • dibblebibble  |  December 27 2012, 3:08PM

    I can see it now. "Computer says "no"" as per Little Britain. This is bound to fail, and I see quite a number of innocent families being destroyed because a computer says "No".

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