Intended for healthcare professionals


Medical law and protection of children

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 04 September 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1380
  1. David M Foreman, consultant and visiting senior lecturer to the Isle of Man government 1,
  2. Juliet Williams, barrister2
  1. 1Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, Noble’s Hospital, Strang, Braddan, Isle of Man IM4 4RJ
  2. 2Southampton SO17 3SE
  1. David_Foreman{at}

    Better guidance is needed on how doctors working in child protection should manage their conflicting professional duties

    A crisis of confidence is developing between the General Medical Council (GMC) and paediatricians. Some assert that the GMC does not adequately understand the unique nature of child protection work,1 which the GMC refutes.2 We argue that this reflects a fundamental confusion in doctors’ duties regarding child protection, the consequences of which are exacerbated by the GMC’s fitness to practise procedures.

    Child protection guidance in the United Kingdom is underpinned by the 1989 Children Act. It introduced the “principle of paramountcy” of the child’s welfare over all other competing considerations, to which UK child protection and paediatric guidance now refers. However, this principle only applies to the courts’ criteria for deciding the outcome of cases under that act,3 not to doctors, whose medical and legal duties in child protection are governed by the usual body of medical law.

    Medical law states that a doctor’s duty to the (non-competent) child is owed to the parent, whose consent is …

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