comment: Should GPs take a share of the blame?

Published: 05/02/2004, Volume II4, No. 5891 Page 15

Shared information oils the cogs of an integrated children's service - its absence was a key factor in the death of Victoria Climbié and is likely to be highlighted again by the Soham inquiry. But away from the harsh spotlight of tragic deaths, the failure to share information between agencies is a routine blight for vulnerable children and their carers.

As we report this week (news, pages 6-7; the HSJ Interview, pages 24-25) children's minister Margaret Hodge is considering placing duties on GPs to 'safeguard and protect children'. She is less forthcoming on exactly what this will entail, but she is openly critical of GPs being 'probably the most reluctant partners out of all the professions' to share information. Although the legislation following on from the green paper Every Child Matters is predicted to be less prescriptive than perhaps feared, this duty may be an exception.

Ms Hodge accuses GPs of hiding behind the data protection laws - so they might, but that does not mean they do not have legitimate concerns. 'Sharing information' sounds like an unequivocal force for good, but it is far from clear what constitutes a 'concern' that they will be expected to 'flag' with the relevant children's trust. The doctor-patient relationship built up over a long time in the practice room can be one of the few remaining stocks of social capital in some deprived communities. And the Laming report on the Climbié case did not point the finger at GPs but at shortfalls in skills and communications of acute and social services colleagues.

GPs have to have confidence about how the information they are being asked to share will be used. It would be understandable if many did not.