Doctors who suspect children are being abused or neglected must tell parents and the young people themselves as soon as possible about their concerns and what action they will take, according to new draft guidance from the GMC.
The guidance also proposes that all doctors have a duty to act to protect children from abuse and make sure they receive the support they need to keep them safe, even when the doctor is only treating the adults.
The new guidance has been developed by a working group chaired by the Lord Justice Thorpe and includes paediatricians, a GP, a psychiatrist, social care professionals and advocates for children and young people. The group was asked to develop clear standards for all doctors, including those who do not routinely treat children.
Among its recommendations is a requirement that every doctor should be able to spot signs that a child could be at risk at an early stage, for example if a parent misuses drugs or alcohol.
Evidence presented to the group from both doctors and parents suggested that open and early communication can help reduce the distress and confusion that parents and children often experience after concerns are raised.
The group was set up following concerns by paediatricians and others involved in child protection about the difficulties of working in this area. These include knowing when to share confidential information and the risk of complaints being made by parents about the doctor's decisions.
The GMC is holding a public consultation until 14 October on the draft guidance, which asks doctors, other professionals, parents and children to give their views on a number of key issues, including how doctors should update a patient's records when concerns of abuse are unsubstantiated.
Niall Dickson, the Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said: "We recognise that taking action to protect children from abuse can be challenging and distressing for everyone involved. This is a complex area of practice, but we believe this new guidance will provide greater clarity about what doctors need to do to protect children, even if they are uncertain about the risks involved. We hope it will also help give doctors confidence to make these extremely difficult decisions."