Data sharing needed in fight against child abuse - Commissioner

By Kate Shuttleworth

Dr Russell Wills, Commissioner for Children. File photo / Warren Buckland
Dr Russell Wills, Commissioner for Children. File photo / Warren Buckland

A national child health database shared by health professionals would be central to reducing child abuse, a parliamentary select committee inquiry into preventing child abuse has heard.

Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills told the health select committee today that information sharing was at the top of his list for supporting vulnerable children.

He proposed a type of triple enrolment concept, creating continuity of care between a lead maternity carer, the primary care provider and the Well Child service.

Dr Wills believed newborn babies should be automatically enrolled on the national immunisation register, a Well Child Register, and with a GP before they leave hospital.

He said information sharing without parental permission was difficult under current privacy law.

Dr Wills recommended a database allowing information on where a child lives and its parents' phone numbers, combined with a base for clinicians to share information.

"It needs to be simple for clinicians to share the clinical details of highly vulnerable children and highly transient children."

Dr Wills said the major barriers to making sure children under five were getting proper primary care was through a lack of gathering of demographic details.

"When very transient, highly mobile families move house, or change their phone number they tell their GP or the hospital; but there's no automatic mechanism for that provider to inform all the other providers of their changed details."

The technical term for the information sharing proposed by Mr Will is "interoperability".

He said an inquiry in NSW had found a lack of information sharing was a major barrier to child protection.

Under a new law passed in the Australian state, a list of named services were able to contact each other for information in regards to child protection issues.

"It would be very helpful if the health select committee would support that through the white paper process," he said.

The Government released its Green Paper on Vulnerable Children last year and were debating it before creating a White Paper Child Action Plan.

Plunket and Every Child Counts echoed Mr Willis call for national data collection it their submission.

Central to its submission was the call for a child health database that is interoperable with other databases.

Deborah Morris-Travers from Every Child Counts said poor child outcomes were costing the Government $8 billion a year.

She said New Zealand has a low level of investment in children compared with other OECD countries.

"Investment in the first three years of life, the first 1000 days will have payback throughout life in health, education and social outcomes."

"We really think that effective data collection is central to knowing whether or not children are accessing the services they need."

Dr Wills said clinical information from existing databases - Plunket, Well Child register, national immunisation register, oral health databases and the database of Primary Health Organisations - could be shared on one.

Other recommendations for reducing child abuse

* Vulnerable pregnant women programmes where midwives are well trained to talk to clients before they give birth about domestic violence, mental illness, and drug and alcohol abuse;

* Midwives working with clinicians to create a plan for at-risk mothers prior to birth;

* Minimum pricing for alcohol;

* Controlled advertising of alcohol;

* Fortifying bread with folate.

- APNZ

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