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Domestic violence screening 'ineffective'

Routine screening and counselling in primary care does not improve women's quality of life, study claims

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Routine screening and counselling for women patients who have experienced domestic violence does not improve women’s quality of life, concludes a new study.

Despite numerous policy recommendations for healthcare screening and WHO endorsement of primary care settings for early intervention in intimate partner violence (IPV), there is a lack of evidence that such screening and subsequent intervention is effective in helping women exposed to violence, say the researchers.

So researchers from The University of Melbourne, Australia, looked at the effectiveness of IPV screening and brief counselling by trained family doctors compared with standard care in improving women’s quality of life, safety planning and behaviour, and mental health.

The study, published today in The Lancet, used a sample of 52 randomly assigned family doctors and 272 women who disclosed fear of a partner in the past year in a postal lifestyle survey.

The results found there was no difference in quality of life, safety planning and behaviour, or mental health between the two groups at 12 months. However, women who were offered counselling were a fifth less likely to report depressive symptoms.

Dr Tony Falconer, President of The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “Domestic violence is a complex problem and covers a range of physical and non-physical behaviours. It is sometimes difficult to identify victims because they sometimes do not bear the outward signs of abuse and often victims do not have a voice.

“When domestic violence is suspected, healthcare professionals must do what they can to protect women in their care and, if needed, their children. When violence is disclosed during a consultation, a sympathetic hearing and safety assessment are important. Equally the victim’s right to confidentiality is paramount.

“Caring for victims of domestic abuse requires multidisciplinary teamwork and there is the need to ensure that doctors, midwives and nurses receive adequate training to manage this process and to detect and monitor vulnerable women.”

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