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Doctors lose legal challenge against council, police and CCGs over Local Safeguarding Arrangements Plan

Doctors have failed in a High Court challenge to Northamptonshire County Council, the county’s chief constable and two NHS clinical commissioning groups over whether they should be paid to assist safeguarding partners.

Mr Justice Swift criticised the British Medical Association (BMA) for using “indirect routes” for its action.

The BMA said Northamptonshire’s Local Safeguarding Arrangements Plan 2019-21 did not meet the requirements of sections 16A to 16L of the Children Act 2004.

Swift J said the BMA contented that general practitioners should be paid when asked by the partners to provide reports to assist investigations, or to attend child safeguarding conferences.

He said: “The BMA's objective in bringing these proceedings is to secure a ruling that GPs should be paid for the time spent providing GP safeguarding information. However, these proceedings do not raise that issue directly.”

The BMA's first submission was that the plan was unlawful because it did not specify what was budgeted for the cost of obtaining GP safeguarding information, while the second was that it was formulated without regard to how this cost would be met and so it failed under section 11(2) of the 2004 Act to ensure “functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children”.

In British Medical Association, R (On the Application Of) v Northamptonshire County Council & Ors [2020] EWHC 1664 Mr Justice Swift dismissed all grounds. He said: “Given the BMA's objective is to establish that GPs should be paid for this part of their work, it is unfortunate that it has gone about achieving that objective by these indirect routes.”

He added: “This matter would be best determined in proceedings that directly concerned whether payment for those services should be made.”

The defendants “neither acted irrationally nor in disregard of a relevant consideration” by the omitting specific arrangements with GPs to obtain information for safeguarding investigations and case conferences” and they showed “no want of regard to the need to safeguard children and promote their welfare” in publishing the plan.

Swift J said had it been necessary for him to decide whether GPs were subject to a legal obligation to provide safeguarding information to the defendants, “I would have concluded that no such legal obligation exists”.

Letters from NHS England in 2014 and 2019 identified the need for specific arrangements by safeguarding partners for each area and so “either the safeguarding partners will agree suitable arrangements with GPs for the cost of work they undertake or, they will be at risk of legal proceedings, area by area or even by GP by GP, in contract or in restitution, to establish whether, and if so what payments should be made”, the judge concluded.

Mark Smulian