GPs who take action to protect children from abuse or neglect will be protected by the General Medical Council (GMC) even if they are wrong, providing concerns are deemed "reasonable".
The regulator has today (10 July) launched new guidance to every doctor in the UK to help them better protect children – developed in part as a response to concerns that fear of complaints from parents were deterring some doctors from raising child protection concerns.
Protecting children and young people: the responsibilities of all doctors includes new advice for doctors on information sharing, working in partnership with other agencies, consent for child protection examinations and acting as a witness in court.
The guidance states: "It is vital that all doctors have the confidence to act if they believe that a child or young person may be being abused or neglected.
"Taking action will be justified, even if it turns out that the child or young person is not at risk of, or suffering, abuse or neglect, as long as the concerns are honestly held and reasonable, and the doctor takes action through appropriate channels."
A two-year long working group chaired by senior family judge the Rt Hon Lord Justice Thorpe produced the guidance after hearing evidence from a range of child protection experts.
"Child protection is a complex and emotionally challenging area of practice for any professional, and doctors in particular can find themselves having to make difficult and delicate judgments in a charged atmosphere," said Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the GMC.
"We are clear though that doctors must raise their concerns if they believe a child or young person may be at risk of abuse or neglect - and this applies whether or not the child is their patient. They also need to know who to contact for advice if they do have any concerns.
"Doctors who make child protection decisions based on the guidance will be able to justify their actions if a complaint is made against them - provided their conclusions are honestly held and have been pursued through the appropriate channels."
UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS said it receives "regular" calls from members seeking advice on reporting child abuse suspicions when they feel confidentiality may be an issue.
MDDUS Senior Medical Adviser Dr John Holden said the GMC's guidance will serve to give doctors "clarity and confidence".