A judgment has highlighted concerns around health professionals wrongly diagnosing accidental injuries as intentionally inflicted ones, leading to families being separated from their children.

The case involved a baby who suffered a serious head injury after his 12 year old sister accidentally dropped him while in her arms. Medical professionals initially diagnosed the injury as non-accidental and social services then took the baby from the parents.

While the judge in the case, Judge Bedford, uses the public judgment to highlight the need for more medical experts inside the family courts, there is a much more important point to  be made.

Non-accidental injuries are very hard to diagnose and the training alone for this area is rigorous and given to only a few highly specialised doctors.

Judge Bedford says in the judgment:

“It is imperative when treating medical professionals have made a diagnosis of non-accidental injury that they keep this under review and update this diagnosis when new medical evidence is received and give active consideration to convene a multidisciplinary meeting. Dr Katta’s letter of 31 August opined that C’s low level vitamin D and calcium were “an unrelated issue”.

It seems that neither Dr Katta or his colleagues revisited his opinion on their view that non-accidental injury was ‘highly likely’.

Clearly, it is important that treating medical professionals do keep under review their diagnoses in the light of information as it emerges.”

Symptoms such as a lack of Vitamin D, which are common features in cases like these, can also indicate the presence of organic diseases which are not in any way related to deliberate injuries and can explain injuries as being accidental.

Given that children come into hospitals all the time with injuries, training around non accidental injuries should be given to every single treating physician looking at children.

Judge Bedford also said in the judgment:

“Although the fact that C has rickets was not ultimately linked by Dr Cartlidge to a subdural bleed, early knowledge of this fact would have put the parties on notice that there was cogent evidence C had an organic condition that may well explain his injuries (rickets of course being linked to low level vitamin D which can be linked to subdural bleeding.”

The baby was returned to his parents after spending five months apart from his family. There is no indication from the judgment as to how this separation affected the health of the baby, or the parents and their other children.

We are calling on the medical profession to insist that every physician treating a child who comes in with an injury or ailment should be trained to detect non-accidental injuries properly, and to ensure that accidental injuries are not misdiagnosed.