Joint inspections a step closer

MSPs have backed legal moves to enable joint inspections of children's services by a range of professionals, led by HMIE. But they called for more safeguards - and for inspectors to be placed under a duty of confidentiality.

The verdict from Holyrood's education committee comes in a report which endorses the general principles of the Joint Inspections of Children's Services Bill, which is being rushed through as part of the Scottish Executive's drive to beef up child protection measures.

Pilot schemes in Highland and East Dunbartonshire threw up the problem of whether it was legal for health boards to allow inspectors access to records of individual children, and whether those records could be discussed with health professionals. It was to plug this loophole that the new legislation was launched last month.

The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners both told the committee of "serious reservations" that the change could make health professionals defensive. The BMA was also sceptical of the value to inspectors of material from GPs' records.

While the committee endorses the general principles behind the legislation, it calls for safeguards. In particular, it urges ministers to consider providing added reassurance by amending the bill to place a duty of confidentiality on inspectors. MSPs also want them to consider the possibility that information disclosed in joint inspections may lead to prosecutions.

Iain Smith of the Liberal Democrats, the education committee's convener, said: "The bill presented a challenge to the committee to balance the need to ensure that all children's services are working effectively together, while ensuring that the vital confidential relationship between patients and health professionals is not compromised."

Mr Smith says that the Executive should now move to "ease some of the concerns raised about the extent of the powers that this legislation would make available to ministers".

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