GPs need support to tackle domestic violence, say researchers

GPs need support to protect children from exposure to domestic abuse and improving continuity of care is a key factor in helping patients speak out about concerns, research shows.

Consultation: GPs need support to help children at risk of domestic violence (photo: iStock)
Consultation: GPs need support to help children at risk of domestic violence (photo: iStock)

GPs require guidance and more effective training on dealing with the effects of domestic abuse to help better safeguard vulnerable children, Bristol researchers have said.

A second study - also carried out at the University of Bristol - reported that patients are more likely to raise health problems when they are familiar with and have built rapport with their GP.

Dr Matthew Ridd, one of the study’s authors, said: ‘This could be because patients feel more comfortable raising issues with a GP they feel they know well, or because more issues can be addressed within the time available as the GP knows the patient and their medical history.’

The study also revealed an increasing number of patients struggle to see the same GP over consecutive visits, with a quarter of patients finding it difficult to consult with their doctor of choice.

The RESPONDS study, funded by the DH, found that primary healthcare professionals seemed ‘uncertain’ on how to respond to the exposure of children to domestic violence.

The findings have prompted development of a training programme to improve confidence and understanding of the links between local domestic violence and child protection services, which is currently being piloted and evaluated at two locations.

Domestic violence is rife in the UK, with over 1.2 million women and 784,000 men experiencing domestic violence each year. Effects of childhood exposure to domestic violence can include long-term behavioural, mental health and educational problems.

Professor Gene Feder, a primary care expert at the University of Bristol and a GP, was lead author on the study.

He said: ‘Domestic violence poses a major challenge to public health, social care and health care services, yet it often goes unrecognised by professionals in those sectors. Being exposed to it can have a damaging effect on children, so the role of primary healthcare professionals is vital.’

The research was due to be presented on Friday at a South West Society for Academic Primary Care (SW SAPC) meeting in Bristol.

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