The children’s commissioner for England has stressed all NHS trusts and local councils must make it a “priority” to introduce a new data-sharing system aimed at helping to prevent child abuse.
Anne Longfield said the new Child Protection-Information Sharing (CP-IS) system – which sends alerts between frontline clinicians and social workers about children in care – had “huge potential to really ensure there aren’t places where children just get lost in the system or not picked up”.
“This isn’t going to do everyone’s job but it will enhance everyone’s job – to protect vulnerable children”
She said she expected those areas of the country that had not yet fully introduced it to be “very clear about the timescales to make that happen”.
The CP-IS system, launched in 2014, automatically alerts health professionals working in emergency and out-of-hours services if a child they are treating is in care or on a child protection plan with a local council.
It also tells them if they are treating a pregnant woman with a pre-birth protection plan in place, and provides the contact details of the relevant social worker.
fiona farnworth and anne longfield
In addition, social workers are alerted if a child attends an unscheduled healthcare setting, such as accident and emergency, out-of-hours GPs and walk-in centres.
Nursing Times has reported on the delayed national roll-out of the system in the past. In November, only 78 of 260 NHS organisations had introduced it in at least one unscheduled healthcare setting.
Meanwhile, just 79 out of 152 local councils had introduced the system. The original target was for all clinicians working in relevant services to have access by 2018.
Ms Longfield stressed that in the past vulnerable children had not been able to benefit from the level of support provided by the CPIS network.
Following a visit to Royal Bolton Hospital last month where she spoke to nursing staff using the alert mechanism, the children’s commissioner said it was clear the set-up was enhancing their ability to protect children.
“What’s important is not only the piece of technology itself, but that it’s often the catalyst for sets of professionals getting to know each other, to work together really well. And that is really important.
“This isn’t going to do everyone’s job but it will enhance everyone’s job – that job being to protect vulnerable children,” she told Nursing Times.
She said nurses were enthusiastic about using the new system and had said it was not time-consuming to learn to use.
“On all fronts, those on the frontline are being clear this is something they’ve learnt through practice so it hasn’t taken them out to train.
“Those on the frontline are being clear this is something they’ve learnt through practice so it hasn’t taken them out to train”
“But also, it’s something which gives them confidence and real focus. It’s part of their role to be professionally curious and its giving services a clear framework to work with in response,” said Ms Longfield.
All local councils in Greater Manchester have been using the CP-IS system since the end of December, while all NHS organisations have it up and running in at least one setting.
At Royal Bolton Hospital, it is in use across A&E, paediatrics and maternity services.
Fiona Farnworth, a nurse and head of safeguarding at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, told Nursing Times the system had made clinician assessments more comprehensive and safer.
“It means all clinicians - medical and nursing staff - using the system here are able to complete a more detailed assessment,” she said.
“So they are able to much more quickly identify if there is a social worker involved, how to contact them easily, get the information they require, what the vulnerability and risks are about the child - because parents don’t always give us that information in full detail when they attend for urgent care,” she added.
“All clinicians - medical and nursing staff - using the system here are able to complete a more detailed assessment”
However Ms Farnworth said if a child or pregnant mother on a protection plan came into A&E, but were from a region that didn’t yet have the new safeguarding system in place, staff had to revert to the manual system.
“We would have to go back to the old system of trying to find a number for another local authority that we don’t speak to on a regular basis. You can usually do that but it takes time,” she said.
“Then during out-of-hours it can be even more difficult to find out how to get in touch with the duty social worker.
“In these cases it’s a reminder for staff that it takes so much long and is so much more difficult when there is a child in the department and they need to make prompt decisions about safety, such as whether a child can go home, whether a child is safe in the care of adults with them,” she added.