Impact of Covid-19 pandemic on domestic abuse referrals in primary care to be explored

A new study, led by researchers at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care in collaboration with colleagues in Queen Mary University of London, UCL, University of Oxford and IRISi will explore whether and how GP referrals to domestic abuse services have changed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The PRECODE study, which has received over £260,000 of funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will measure differences in domestic abuse referrals during and after the lockdown in England and Wales compared to the year before.

To provide a detailed picture of impact, the analysis will be combined with data from interviews with general practice teams and IRIS advocate educators, who deliver training to those teams and receive referrals of patients experiencing domestic abuse.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, instances of domestic abuse in the UK and globally have risen, as people have found themselves trapped at home with an abusive partner, spouse or other adult. At the same time, GPs have switched from face-to-face consultations to phone, digital and video – so-called ‘remote’ consultations, potentially increasing risk to women reporting violence.

Researchers will look at whether and how GPs have managed to ask safely about abuse, offer support and make referrals when consulting with patients remotely by telephone, video or online. They will also examine how GPs have adapted to online training about domestic violence and abuse.

Dr Eszter Szilassy, co-lead of the study, said: “With the rapid shift to remote consultations during the pandemic, we want to find out what the impact has been on GP domestic abuse referrals. This is important not only because there has been an increase in domestic abuse since the start of the pandemic but also because it is likely that remote consultations will become more common, even after lockdown eases.”

Professor Gene Feder, co-lead of the study, added: “Over the past decade many GPs, in line with national policy, have been trained in how to ask and respond to patients who may be experiencing domestic abuse, providing general support and a crucial link to expert support from local domestic abuse agencies. The shift to remote consultations makes safe disclosure of abuse more difficult. This study will help GPs continue to have a vital role in supporting survivors of domestic abuse at a time when they are most needed.”

Medina Johnson, Chief Executive of IRISi, a social enterprise established to promote and improve the healthcare response to domestic abuse, and whose flagship intervention is the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) programme, said: “We are delighted to be the quantitative data provider for PRECODE and to support in brokering the relationships and sampling for the qualitative research. We hope this study will help us to understand how to refine and adapt our programme even more to help general practice teams better support their patients affected by domestic abuse.”

The results of the study (PRECODE: Primary care response to domestic violence and abuse in the COVID-19 pandemic) are expected at the end of the year.

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