Campaigners are calling for an inquiry into concerns that families have been wrongly accused of inventing or causing illnesses in their children.
Fabricated or Induced Illness (FII) is a rare form of abuse where parents exaggerate or cause their child’s medical condition.
Families and charities claim there is a “wave of false allegations”.
The Department of Health says that young people will always have symptoms checked by fully-trained staff.
The call is being led by Fiightback – a support group helping families across the UK who have been accused of FII.
Parents like Amy – not her real name – who was forced to live apart from her two-year-old daughter Lauren for almost a year, after she was accused of both inventing her child’s illnesses and then poisoning her.
“I felt like my character was assassinated, my family was ripped apart and my child was stolen,” she told 5 Live Investigates.
Amy’s nightmare began after her daughter Lauren – not her real name – was rushed into hospital after becoming very ill with a suspected infection in February 2018.
It was not the first time Amy had taken her daughter to hospital.
When Lauren was just three months old, she started having spasms. Doctors prescribed anti-epilepsy medication.
She subsequently developed a number of other conditions – the most significant of which was reflux, which meant she had to be fed through a tube.
‘Poisoned my daughter’
Fast forward to February 2018, and as Lauren recovered from her illness, doctors took her off the medications she was taking for her pre-existing conditions.
Amy says all Lauren’s symptoms disappeared. Within a week she was a normal, healthy child, and was able to eat food.
Amy says the family concluded that side effects from the medication must have been causing her symptoms.
But doctors at the hospital took a different view.
They decided that the only possible explanation was that the symptoms had never existed in the first place – and Amy had invented them.
The hospital’s child protection consultant said the illness which had led to Lauren being rushed into hospital had been caused by Amy administering a substance such as a laxative through her feeding tube.
“The consultant was telling me my daughter had never had any infection or illness – the only explanation was I had poisoned my daughter and nearly killed her,” Amy says.
The hospital made a child protection referral stating they believed Lauren would be at risk if she was allowed home.
A court decided she should be placed in foster care.
After three months, Lauren was allowed to live with her father in separate accommodation to Amy and her other children. She could only see her daughter under supervision.
“Lauren was really confused about where her brothers and sisters were, where her home was. It’s very difficult for a child to keep having to say goodbye when you push them into the arms of a stranger,” says Amy.
The family launched a legal bid to get Lauren home.
Experts uncovered medical records which showed hospital staff and others had witnessed Lauren’s spasms and vomiting – despite claims Amy had been making them up.
One expert said it was likely that Lauren had suffered from both reflux and adverse behavioural effects as a result of the anti-seizure medication.
But it was an independent report for the court which would prove crucial. It stated Lauren’s illness must have been caused by an infection – and the chances of it being caused by a substance being put through her tube was remote.
The case against Amy was abandoned. Lauren came home – almost a year to the day after she had been rushed into hospital.
Fiightback told 5 Live Investigates it now wants a review into the number of FII child protection investigations like Amy’s, as well as the FII guidelines for medical and social work staff.
It also wants national and local policy on responses to accusations of FII to be looked at, and new standards set.
Carol Monaghan MP – who has led calls in Parliament to raise awareness of FII – said she would support an inquiry.
She added: “Disturbingly, diagnoses can be made by health professionals who have not met or examined the child, and child protection procedures can then be instigated as a result of a remote diagnosis.”
Fiightback is also calling for a cross-party inquiry into what it describes as a “wave of false allegations.”
Meanwhile, Lauren is now a bright happy energetic little person.
“It was surreal. I spent all this time having people continually telling me you’re guilty, you’re guilty and then in a few minutes it can all just be turned around,” Amy says.
“We are just trying to focus on healing.”
The family has made a complaint to the hospital and to the General Medical Council.
The hospital said it was unable to discuss individual cases because of patient confidentiality.
But a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Any child or young person visiting an NHS service will have their symptoms assessed by clinicians who are fully trained to correctly diagnose rare conditions or spot any signs of this type of child abuse.
“We are leading the way in diagnosing rare diseases and personalising treatments through genomics.
“As part of our Long Term Plan, every seriously ill child who is likely to have a rare genetic disorder and cancer will be offered whole genome sequencing to help get them support sooner.”