Mrs X asked her GP to refer her eightyear-old daughter, Child F, to be assessed by a consultant psychiatrist in child and adolescent mental health. The GP referral letter stated that Child F had reported to her teacher that her father frequently touched her genitalia. The child’s parents had recently separated acrimoniously and the mother had reported the matter to the police.
The consultant psychiatrist, Dr B, obtained a history from Mrs X, who confirmed these details. She then took a history from Child F and wrote a report based on these discussions. The report detailed that Child F had reported numerous incidents of touching by her father, and the descriptions provided by the child indicated the father was sexually abusing his daughter.
The police investigated the allegations but no charges were brought against the father, Mr X. However, Dr B’s report was used by the mother in custody proceedings, and the mother gained sole custody of Child F.
In the course of the proceedings, Mr X obtained his own expert psychiatric report. Mr X’s expert concluded that Dr B had obtained an inadequate history in three areas. The expert said that Dr B had failed to confirm the history with the school directly, had failed to seek an explanation from Mr X, and had failed to consider that Mrs X may have coached Child F in giving her answers. This expert was less certain that this was a case of sexual abuse, but deemed the child was best placed with her mother, with supervised contact with her father.
Mr X brought a claim for negligence against Dr B, alleging a failure to take an adequate history from a range of sources to evidence her conclusion of sexual abuse.
Medical Protection obtained further expert opinion from a psychiatrist. This expert concluded that Dr B carried out her interview with Child F appropriately, and that there was no evidence of pressure or undue influence by the mother. She concluded that there may have been some shortcomings in failing to obtain collateral history from the school and Mr X, but that the activity that Child F had described to Dr B, if true, would unequivocally amount to child sexual abuse and that Dr B’s conclusions to that effect were reasonable.
Medical Protection successfully defended the claim.
- When writing a professional report, you should take reasonable steps to check the information provided, to ensure it is not false or misleading. A report should make clear where a patient has provided information about events or another party, and this should not be recorded as fact. You must not deliberately leave out relevant information even if requested to do so.
- When writing a professional report, you should set out the facts of the case and clarify when you are providing an opinion. Do not be tempted to comment on matters that do not fall within your area of expertise. In this case, Dr B was assisted by her clear and robust report-writing.
- All doctors have a duty to act on concerns about the welfare of children, and child protection work is recognised as challenging and emotionally difficult. GMC guidance makes clear that all doctors should have confidence to act if they believe a child or young person may be abused or neglected. As long as their concerns are ‘honestly held and reasonable’ and they take appropriate action, doctors should not face criticism even if the allegations prove unfounded.