Researchers from Bristol found that 272 clinicians from general practices in Hackney and Bristol who responded to a survey had received an average of just one hour of training on domestic violence at undergraduate and postgraduate level.
In research published in the British Journal of General Practice, the researchers said domestic violence affects one in four women, and those experiencing abuse see doctors and other health professionals as support systems.
A total of 49% of respondents thought their practices encouraged victims to come forward. The age and sex of responders were representative of UK general practice teams.
Both GPs and practice nurses were surveyed, and GPs were found to be more knowledgeable about domestic violence and more likely to be proactive in their care of women experiencing abuse.
GPs scored a median of 28 out of 37 correct responses to a series of questions to assess their understanding of domestic violence. The majority had a good understanding of the relationship between alcohol or drug use and domestic violence, and reasons why victims may feel unable to leave a relationship. Compared with a survey from over a decade ago there was no substantial improvement in GPs' scores.
More support is also needed for GPs approaching potential victims. Only 29% of responders felt prepared to ask appropriate questions about domestic violence, and 43% felt comfortable discussing it in the first place.
Most clinicians lacked confidence in identifying patients experiencing abuse. Only 22% thought they could identify abuse if the patient presented with a condition such as depression or migraine. When patients did present with signs of abuse, 51% of clinicians then followed up with suspicions of domestic violence.
In the six months prior to the survey, 54% identified at least one new domestic abuse case and 43% then referred patients to other agencies. Between 36% and 48% of clinicians provided information, education, or counselling.