Doctors increasingly unlikely to testify in child abuse cases

Doctors are increasingly unlikely to testify in child abuse cases because of high-profile cases in recent years, according to an editorial in this week's British Medical Journal.

The reluctance of doctors to speak up in such cases has been caused by adverse publicity and the consequences of the cases involving Professors Roy Meadow and David Southall, according to an editorial in the journal.

Roy Meadow was struck off by the GMC in July 2005 for giving flawed statistical evidence in a trial, but was reinstated in February by the High Court. David Southall was found guilty of serious professional misconduct and banned from child protection work for three years after reporting his suspicions of abuse in the same case.

The editorial is written by David Chadwick, a retired child abuse paediatrician from the USA, who has provided expert testimony in many cases.

Dr Chadwick says in his editorial: "In the United Kingdom, the risks of testifying that a child has been abused have become formidable and many doctors are reluctant to testify.

"Yet each case of suspected abuse is unique and the applicability of the evidence base will always differ from case to case. This makes the testimony of doctors who specialise in the study of child abuse particularly valuable and important. Without such testimony from expert witnesses children may be unprotected from abuse."

Dr Chadwick was writing an editorial to accompany an analysis piece in the journal by freelance journalist Jonathan Gornall.

Mr Gornall's report raises concerns that a recent handbook called Child Protection Companion produced by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health omits any direct references to original research done by Professors Meadow and Southall, although the college denies references were deliberately omitted.

"Paediatricians, already feeling beleaguered thanks to a concerted public and media campaign against individual doctors, will be dismayed that Roy Meadow and David Southall seem to have been written out of the medical history book by their own college," writes Mr Gornall.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment