The General Medical Council (GMC) has laucnhed new guidance today (27 September 2007) outlining doctors' roles and responsibilities towards children and young people.
This is the first time that doctors' specific duties in this area have been defined by the GMC, the regulator for the UK's 240,000 doctors.
Under 18s make up more than a fifth of the UK's population, says the GMC, which argues that young people need to be protected from harm and rely on others for their wellbeing – yet it can be challenging for doctors to balance competing interests.
According to the Medical Defence Union, common dilemmas about children raised by its members include whether they can provide the contraceptive pill to girls under 16 without their parents' knowledge, whether children and young people can refuse life saving treatment and who has access to childrens' medical records when their parents get divorced.
0-18 years: guidance for all doctors sets out the GMC's expectations, and aims to help doctors make decisions that are ethical, lawful and in the best interests of children and young people.
As well as publishing the guidance as a booklet, the GMC has also launched a user-friendly version on its website (see below), which is designed to help doctors find the information they need quickly and easily.
The guidance states that doctors must:
Professor Sir Graeme Catto, GMC President, said: "Throughout our consultation, young people told the GMC that doctors don't always listen to them or take them seriously. We hope our new guidance will remind doctors of their ongoing duty to make an effort to communicate effectively with all their patients, including those who are under 18.
"The principles outlined in the guidance will provide a useful framework for doctors when they are faced with difficult situations – for example, respecting the rights of a young person to confidential treatment whilst being aware of the need to inform others if there is any indication of serious harm."
Luziane Tchiegue-Nouta, Acting Lewisham Young Mayor, aged 16, said: "Young people need to know that they can see their doctor in confidence. It is important that they are treated as patients in their own right."