The ICGP has launched a guide for members to recognise and advise patients who are experiencing domestic violence abuse (DVA) in their lives.
The guide helps GPs recognise and act on the indicators of DVA, which are not always obvious. It provides sample questions for GPs and practice teams to discuss the subject of DVA with their patients, and how to ensure the consulting environment in the practice protects victims’ confidentiality.
ICGP Director of Women’s Health, Dr Nóirín O’Herlihy, said: “For GPs, it is not always easy to identify if a patient is experiencing domestic violence and abuse. For patients, it can be difficult to disclose it. It is important for GPs to be confident to ask patients about the possibility of domestic violence and abuse when it is safe. GPs are more likely to ask in high-risk situations, for example, during pregnancy.
“People who experience domestic abuse often have regular contact with their GP and identify doctors and nurses as professionals from whom they would like to get support. It is vital that healthcare professionals such as GPs and their practice teams are aware of, and ask about, domestic abuse.”
Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, said: “I know that every day, Irish doctors take great care to help women, men and families who have experienced domestic abuse.
“Ensuring that the best possible supports are available to victims is an area of work which I and my colleagues in Government have identified as a priority. I very much welcome that this guide will enhance the support already being provided by GPs to victims and it will ensure that appropriate referrals, ongoing support and follow-up is consistently provided which will empower patients/victims with the correct information and resources.
“The Government has prioritised tackling domestic violence in all its forms, and ensuring that people, particularly women and vulnerable people, feel safe and are safe in our communities.. “I am currently leading work on a new whole-of-Government strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which will set an overall goal of zero tolerance in our society for domestic violence. This new plan will have a particular focus on prevention, and on ensuring victims are better supported, and initiatives like this guide help with both.”
Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, ICGP Medical Director, added: “The prevalence of domestic violence and abuse has been particularly concerning during the Covid-19 pandemic, and this guide is timely for GPs and their practice teams. Domestic violence and abuse are under-recognised and under-treated. Improving the detection and management of DVA has enormous potential to improve the lives and health of victims and their families, especially children. GPs are ideally placed to provide this care.
“This guide sets out the common presentation of DVA, and what actions a GP can take, from the questions to ask, how to assess risk, advising on support services, while encouraging the patient to return for follow-up,” Dr Quinlan also said.
Trinity College also published new research on women who experience domestic abuse and struggled with substance use. It found that in Ireland, in 2020 at least 11,000 women suffered the duality of hidden domestic violence and personal substance use. At least 48,000 women who used substances in 2020 had experienced some form of physical sexual or emotional abuse within their lifetime.
Those who use substances are also more likely to experience homelessness, poverty and to have had traumatic life experiences. This in turn can lead to mental health difficulties, shame and stigma which make it harder to access support.