The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Improve access to support for domestic abuse, BMA demands

GPs have key role in spotting signs of abuse, but often lack confidence in how best to handle it

Caroline White

Monday, 25 November 2013

Access to support services for victims of domestic abuse must be made easier, the BMA has said, amid fears that these services are particularly vulnerable to funding cuts.

The call, which coincides with The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, follows figures released by support charity Refuge showing that in any one year one in nine women is severely physically abused, many of whom will suffer in silence.

Health professionals should be given the confidence and skills to identify and support victims, and must work alongside other services to ensure earlier detection of domestic abuse, says the BMA. 

Professor Sheila Hollins, who chairs the BMA’s Board of Science, and who has hosted a number of seminars on commissioning services for vulnerable groups, commented: “In the UK one in four women are victims of domestic abuse during their lifetime, with the sad reality being that despite the introduction of tougher laws and increased awareness this continues to result in the death of two women every week.”

She said that the unstructured investment and overlapping of resources had made it much more difficult for victims to access services, particularly in view of ongoing budget cuts.

She said the system needed to take a more proactive approach to protect abuse victims, and that doctors had a vital part to play in identifying signs of abuse, especially as only 23% of incidents are reported to the police.

“On average, female victims are subjected to 37 attacks before the police become involved. During this time a large number of these may come into contact with their GP, accident and emergency doctors, obstetricians, midwives or nurses,” she said.

“It is important that we give healthcare professionals the confidence to identify and support victims, and continue to work to raise awareness amongst doctors which is why we are working with Baroness Scotland’s Global Alliance to develop E-learning materials to give doctors the tools to help sooner victims of this appalling crime,” she added.

Earlier this year the BMA organised a seminar in the House of Lords to address the role healthcare professionals could take in identifying and responding to domestic abuse, including that of children and older people.

The event highlighted the important role GPs can play in countering domestic abuse, with research suggesting many victims come into contact with their family doctor long before the police become involved.

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470