How can primary care providers support victims of domestic violence?

Thu 16th Nov 2023

Thanks to charities like First Light, primary care providers are seeing increasing levels of support for help with domestic violence.

16 days of activism against gender based violence will begin on 25th November and run until the 10th December. Across this time period, events such as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Human Rights Day will be marked.

As part of this activism, Charity First Light will be taking action against domestic abuse. The offence covers a spectrum of behaviours from physical attacks to coercive and financial control. It is these more subtle behaviours which are more difficult to identify. Often, they are even difficult for the clients themselves to recognise as abusive.

Coodes Paralegal Anna Barrick shares her thoughts on the importance of primary care providers in tackling domestic violence.

Primary care providers and domestic violence

General practices are currently delivering more than a million appointments every day and at the same time in England and Wales, as of March 2023, 4.4% of people aged 16 or over experienced domestic abuse in the last year. More than ever, it is essential for GPs and other health professionals to receive training on domestic abuse.

A topic surrounded by stigma, with signs of abuse being very subtle—it’s imperative that primary care providers are asking the right questions. If a client makes a disclosure, then knowing where to signpost for the right support is so important.

Legislation and guidance

The Care Act 2014 set out legislation which reinforced the need for healthcare professionals to play a role in the prevention, recognition, and response to abuse and neglect. In addition, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 aimed to bolster awareness of and provide protection and support for domestic abuse victims.

To assist frontline health professionals, the Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan was released. This statutory guidance aimed to support primary care providers’ role in tackling domestic abuse. It details standards, best practices, and tailored support.

Campaigns and charities have also risen to the challenge of improving primary care providers’ ability to tackle domestic violence. Charity First Light provides specialised training to healthcare professionals. They want to equip primary care providers with the confidence to ask difficult questions, make them aware of the support available and streamline the referral process. Between 2022 and 2023 alone, 14,000 individuals reached out to First Light for support.

Legal Aid

Outside of the GP’s office, if a victim of domestic abuse chooses to pursue legal action, a primary care provider’s responsibilities continue.

It’s common in Family Law cases, where a client is seeking Legal Aid, that they are required by the Legal Aid Agency to provide independent professional evidence of domestic abuse.

This has been the case for more than a decade but is still relatively unknown outside the legal profession.

The Legal Aid Agency set strict criteria about who can and cannot provide this professional evidence. Often, clients have not sought assistance or spoken to anyone about the abuse they’re experiencing. This means their GP, or another primary care provider, may be their only way of obtaining the required evidence for Legal Aid.

That is why it is so important for primary care providers to understand their responsibilities and feel confident when identifying, preventing, and responding to domestic abuse.

What is changing?

Thanks to the proactivity of charities like First Light, primary care providers are seeing increasing levels of support for this area of their practice.

The GP Contract is a document produced every year outlining new areas for the delivery of general medical services. In the 2023/24 edition, it was outlined that health professionals should ensure consistency in the access that patients can expect. For example, patients can expect to be offered an assessment of need or signposted to an appropriate service. With a more confident and informed group of GPs, this will be more likely for those experiencing domestic violence.

Additionally, the contract sets out that patients will be able to access their medical records much more easily. It details that ‘prospective (future) record access to be offered by 31 October 2023’. This will mean those pursuing Legal Aid will have much more control over securing professional evidence in the form of their medical records.

Attitudes are also changing with regard to the effect on children who have experienced or seen domestic abuse. This will also need to be explored as an extension to what primary care providers can offer in this scenario.

Support for medical professionals

Overall, it is essential that medical health professionals continue to receive training. They are vital in both signposting clients to support services but also providing the necessary supporting letters for Legal Aid. Legal Aid can mean the difference between a person receiving the legal advice and support they require against their abuser or nothing at all.

At Coodes, we don’t just spotlight gender-based violence for these marked 16 days. We always have and will continue to provide legal support for our clients in these situations. But by coming together during this time, we can raise awareness, advocate for change, and offer support to those affected. Together, we can make a difference.

If you’re currently facing domestic violence, or are looking for help for somebody you know, please visit the below charities.

Firstlight – a charity for anyone who is experiencing or has experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence.

Telephone: 0300 777 4777

ManKind Initiative – the principal, expert and specialist charity in the UK focusing on male victims of domestic abuse.

Telephone:01823 334 244

Refuge – Refuge is the largest domestic abuse organisation in the UK. They offer support to thousands of women and their children, helping them to overcome the physical, emotional, financial and logistical impacts of abuse and rebuild their lives.

Telephone: 0808 2000 247

Thu 16th Nov 2023

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