The Department of Health has announced plans to develop a new online system in hospitals to help doctors and nurses spot children suffering from abuse and neglect.
Work on the system, known as the ‘Child Protection - Information System', will begin in early 2013 and it will start to be introduced to NHS hospitals in 2015.
Doctors and nurses using the system in emergency departments or urgent care centres will be able to see if the children they treat are subject to a child protection plan or have frequently attended emergency departments or urgent care centres before.
Medical staff will be able to use this information as part of their overall clinical assessment, along with information about where and when children have previously been receiving urgent treatment. This will help them build up a better picture of what is happening in the child's life so they can alert social services if they think something might be wrong.
Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter said: "Up until now, it has been hard for frontline healthcare professionals to know if a child is already listed as being at risk or if children have been repeatedly seen in different emergency departments or urgent care centres with suspicious injuries or complaints, which may indicate abuse.
"Providing instant access to that information means vulnerable and abused children will be identified much more quickly - which will save lives."
However there is some concern that it may result in some children being placed in greater danger as parents or carers of injured children avoid hospitals for fear of the repercussions.
In her latest opinion article, family law academic and author Penny Booth commented: "The link between Accident and Emergency hospital visits with children in tow and a register of potential threats to the wellbeing of the child has all the hallmarks of the wrong answer to the right question. We have to protect children and prevent devious ‘carers' from carrying on with their abusive ways, but making it compulsory to engage in the online system which will (allegedly) alert hospital staff to a situation where a child has been brought in for treatment on multiple occasions will merely discourage carers from bringing children in for treatment (thus making the devious more devious), and put on hospital workers even more responsibility.
"It is a good idea that children ‘at risk' will be highlighted, but let's not consider this an answer to the problem of child abuse - it is not. Better training for more workers is the answer, not some computer system which lulls us into a sense of false security."