Nurses and other frontline staff across England will soon be able to use a “landmark” nationwide data sharing system that will alert them to children who may be at risk of abuse or neglect.
It is intended that the Child Protection – Information Sharing system will help to avoid repeating cases of abuse, such as the Baby P scandal, by providing a “red flag” for a child that is on a protection plan or is in the care of a local authority.
In addition to the ‘red flag’, non-clinical information including the child’s frequency of visits to accident and emergency departments or urgent care centres will also be made available via the electronic programme.
Multiple visits to these settings can often be an indication of neglect or abuse and it is hoped that NHS staff will use this data to voice any concerns about the child’s safety to social services.
“[This system] marks a huge turning point to securing better information sharing for vulnerable children”
The new CP-IS system – developed by the Department of Health, and run by NHS England and the Health and Social Care Information Centre – is expected to be available to clinicians working in all unscheduled care settings, such as A&E, out-of-hours GPs and walk-in centres, by 2018.
There is already a legal requirement for local authorities to provide non-clinical information about a child on a protection plan to any public body that is involved in their care.
However, this statutory duty is on a “need-to-know” basis, which means the information will not always be shared automatically and will usually only be provided at the request of the public organisation.
While there will be no legal compulsion for local authorities to use the CP-IS system, it is hoped that 80% of councils will sign up to sharing information in this way by 2015.
The programme has been trialled at Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Lancashire County Council and Tower Hamlets Council.
Its development has been described as a “landmark” by NHS England’s director of nurse commissioning and health improvement Hilary Garratt.
Ms Garratt said: “We have 92,000 looked-after children in the UK, 50% of whom suffered abuse in 2012-13. We also know from most serious case reviews of children suffering abuse that information sharing between professionals is a key feature requiring attention.
“Today marks a huge turning point to securing better information sharing for vulnerable children and its success now needs to continue being driven by the commitment and vigilance of all NHS and local authority organisations to use it well and to demonstrate its benefits,” she said.
Launching the system, health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “As a practising NHS doctor, I understand the importance of health and care professionals working together and sharing the right information to stop tragedies like Baby P being repeated.
“This new child protection information sharing system will help to stop children at risk of abuse slipping through the net with tragic consequences,” he said.
He added: “Where a child is at risk of abuse, frontline NHS staff in A&E departments and other urgent care settings, will now, for the first time, have access to this easy-to-use system, helping them to step in, and take action to protect vulnerable and neglected children.”