Domestic violence training and support programme shown to increase GP referrals 30-fold

Practices that have undertaken training in the IRIS programme saw a 30-fold increase in referrals to advocacy agencies for women affected by domestic violence and abuse, according to research presented at the RCGP annual conference.

Dr Alex Sohal

Dr Alex Sohal, a GP in east London and clinical lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, was presenting the findings of her research after it was named Research Paper of the Year earlier in the conference.

Dr Sohal, who is also the RCGP clinical champion for domestic violence, said the study, published in BMC Medicine, was the first real-world analysis of the impact of the IRIS programme. The programme, which is run by a non-profit social enterprise IRISi, provides specialist domestic violence and abuse (DVA) training, support and asistance with referrals to GP practices. It had previously been assessed positively by a randomised control trial in 2007.

This study took place over four years between 2012 and 2017. 'We found that in four London boroughs over four years of 144 general practices that clinicians sustainably and effectively increased referrals to advocacy agencies for women affected by abuse,' Dr Sohal said.

'It was a 30 fold increase we had a comparator London borough with 61 general practices that didn't commission IRIS, so they just had some domestic violence awareness work, and there was no increase in their referrals at all.'

Domestic vioence

Lucy Downes project lead from IRISi told the conference that she hoped the research would lead to the programme being more widely commissioned, particularly with the move from CCGs to integrated care systems.

'There's been a lot of talk about levelling up and that with the expanded footprint of an ICS in comparison to CCGs, if a couple of CCGs are merging with others and if some have iris and others haven't this will be an opportunity for the programmes to be commissioned across that whole footprint,' she said.

'IRIS is recognised as gold standard and cited as best practice so we really want all clinicians and patients to be able to have access to this service.'

Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown, joint honorary secretary of the RCGP, who introduced Dr Sohal and Ms Downes, said that the judging panel felt that the paper 'was particularly relevant in the light of COVID restrictions and the widespread reports of increased domestic violence during the lockdowns'.

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