- “False negatives” put children with protection plans at risk
- None of the four children’s specialist trusts have successfully implemented child protection information sharing system
- Local authorities face technical difficulties uploading case files
Nearly three quarters of children with child protection plans do not have their details stored on an information sharing scheme designed to ensure their safety, LGC’s sister title Health Service Journal can reveal.
As a result, tens of thousands of children may not be identified as being “at risk” if they presented at NHS accident and emergency departments.
The child protection information sharing (CP-IS) scheme is still under construction, and is scheduled to be completed by March 2018. However national leaders launched a recovery plan during the summer due to delays in implementation from councils.
NHS Digital told HSJ that only 28 per cent of at risk children have had their details uploaded to CP-IS. In total 34,128 children with protection plans have their details uploaded to CP-IS, accounting for just 28 per cent of all such at-risk children.
This suggests a further 87,000 vulnerable children would not be identifiable to the health service.
CP-IS was introduced in December 2014 to improve the exchange of information between agencies working with vulnerable children.
The initiative was introduced in response to the deaths of Peter Connelly in 2007 and Victoria Climbié in 2000.
However the CP-IS project was delayed as the Spine was upgraded to Spine 2.
It is also understood there have been considerable delays from local authorities, which are responsible for ensuring child protection information is loaded onto the system.
NHS staff are concerned that CP-IS is creating “false negatives”, which could lead clinicians to assume that a child is not at risk when actually they have a protection plan that is not displaying on the system.
So far none of the four specialist NHS children’s trusts has successfully implemented CP-IS because of these issues, though all four are understood to be keen to engage with the system.
Sheffield Children’s Foundation Trust was one of the first NHS providers to sign up.
Jayne Axe, head nurse for safeguarding children the trust, said: “We wanted to be a flagship and set the pace for children’s services”.
However, she said her experience had been disappointing. Despite having “live” access to CP-IS for almost two years, the trust has not implemented it in areas where clinicians work because it gives “false negatives”.
Ms Axe added: “If a child has got a protection plan but is living in an area where the local authority is not uploading live information then I would get a negative return, suggesting that the child does not have a protection plan. For me that raises a risk that professionals may think there is no concern when actually that child is on a protection plan.”
A statement subsequently released by Ms Axe said CP-IS allows professionals to “think more broadly about safeguarding”, and makes it more likely a child with a protection plan will be identified. CP-IS been a “useful addition”, she said and, despite its current limitations, “it is progress and helps make children safer”.
Catherine Coppard, head nurse for safeguarding children at Western Sussex FT, said her trust has faced the same issue. If a child’s details have not been put into the system by local authorities there is “nothing there” when the child’s file comes up.
She said: “We are one of the few trusts that have joined CP-IS from the South East area. If a child from Brighton, Hove, Surrey or Hampshire comes to our trust with child protection issues, we won’t know. For that very reason we continue to use our old [manual child protection] system alongside the new system.”
An NHS Digital spokeswoman said: “It is possible that if a clinician raises a concern on the system and the child’s local authority is not live [on the system], this will not show an alert.”
To counter this, NHS Digital recommends that health professionals “follow their local safeguarding processes whilst the coverage increases”.
NHS Digital, NHS England and the Department for Education have recently launched a “recovery plan” to speed up the deployment of CP-IS, the spokeswoman said. This plan includes working with local authorities and their IT system suppliers to overcome technical problems, and “aligning the timelines for both health and social care implementation”.