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."