Child protection information will be shared with school nurses and health visitors to better support children at heightened risk of abuse during the coronavirus pandemic, NHS Digital has announced.
School nurses and health visitors will have access to an ‘urgently amended’ tool that provides data on protected vulnerable children for the NHS and local authorities.
NHS Digital added in a statement that the move ‘is intended to strengthen protection for children at risk of abuse at a time when the risk for many is heightened’.
It continued: ‘[This will provide] a reliable source of information on who vulnerable children are in circumstances where the capacity of local agencies is reduced.’
Through the Child Protection Information Sharing (CP-IS) tool, school nurses and health visitors will receive details of children in their school or area under a child protection plan or designated as ‘looked after’. This also applies to pregnant women who have an unborn child protection plan.
The CP-IS tool typically alerts NHS staff when children under these three categories present at unscheduled care settings, including A&E and walk-in-centres. It also tells the child’s social worker when such a visit occurs.
NHS Digital said that some areas already have local systems in place for sharing data with school nurses and health visitors, but this ‘national solution will provide an additional layer of protection for children’.
A pilot will be live in London within a week before being rolled out nationally ‘as swiftly as possible thereafter’, it added.
The extension of the service was part of a broader programme due to be introduced by 2023 but will now be brought forward.
It comes as nursing groups warned that victims of domestic abuse could be left in a support ‘vacuum’ as health visitors and school nurses are redeployed to tackle coronavirus.
Programme director at NHS Digital Martin Dennys said: ‘We know that a deeply concerning potential, unintended consequence of the current regulations in place to try and keep people at home to save lives is that vulnerable children already at risk of being abused are even more at risk.
‘We are working around the clock to extend the crucial information shared through Child Protection Information Sharing to school nurses and health visitors as quickly as possible, to provide what could be a crucial extra layer of information and protection at a time when local arrangements for such data-sharing may be difficult to administer.’