The General Medical Council has launched a new guide, 0-18 years: guidance for doctors, which aims to help doctors make decisions that are “ethical, lawful and in the best interests of children and young people”.

This is the first time that doctors’ specific duties in this area have been defined by the GMC, which regulates the UK’s 240,000 doctors. “Previously our advice has only referred to children and young people where their position is different from that of adults; this document recognises that children are individuals with rights that should be respected,” explained Professor Sir Graeme Catto, GMC’s President.

“Throughout our consultation young people told the GMC that doctors don't always listen to them or take them seriously…The principles outlined in the guidance will provide a useful framework for doctors when they are faced with difficult situations – for example, respecting the rights of a young person to confidential treatment whilst being aware of the need to inform others if there is any indication of serious harm,” he added.

The publication follows a three-month consultation with over 350 responses received from under 18s and nearly 600 from individual doctors, parents, organisations and the public.

Increased vulnerability

It stresses that children and young people may be particularly vulnerable and need to be protected from harm, and points out that they can find it difficult accessing medical services or defending their rights.

“Effective communication between doctors and children and young people is essential to the provision of good care,” the guide advises, and warns that disabled children and young people “can feel particularly disadvantaged in this respect.”

The guidance, which comes into force on October 15, also insists that doctors they give children “accessible information” on what is wrong with them along with any treatment options.