The government’s NHS reforms risk creating a confusing, fragmented and less effective system for protecting vulnerable children, according to the NHS confederation.
At a conference today, the confederation warned patchy commissioning and service provision across councils and primary care trusts – both responsible for child safeguarding services – have been at the root of a number of major child protection failures.
Yet the reforms will deepen this problem, with services spread out between a range of organisations, warned Jo Webber, NHS Confederation deputy policy director.
The warning follows a report from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which found more than three quarters of paediatricians feel they will not be able to fulfil their safeguarding duties effectively under the reforms.
“We have ample evidence from the past of what goes wrong when organisations are not coordinated to work together properly. Through joint work between councils and the NHS, we have made great strides since then,” Webber said.
“There is deep unease in the NHS that, in reorganising the system, we are resetting to a model that is potentially riskier and certainly more fragmented,” she added.
Under the NHS reforms, responsibility for safeguarding will be divided among four different organisations, including local authorities and the NHS commissiong boards.
It is still unclear which organisation will have overall responsibility for providing specialist safeguarding services or how organisations will be encouraged to work together.
The government is right to devolve power to the “lowest level possible”, Webber said, but said this must be managed carefully.
“The safety and health of some of the most vulnerable people in our society can not be subject to local discretion,” she said.
“We know through painful experience that it is between the gaps in responsibilities that the most tragic and difficult cases fall,” she added. “The time has come to be honest with government and together resolve these issues before a policy problem becomes a tragic failure.”
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