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GP practices trained to spot signs of domestic abuse among patients

Laura sat at her desk

Staff working in GP practices across Swansea Bay are being helped to spot the signs of domestic abuse among their patients.

The project was initially trialled at the practices within the Upper Valleys and Neath Local Cluster Collaboratives (LCCs).

Following its success and the agreement of a three-year funding commitment, it will be rolled out to all GP practices.

Identification & Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) is a national programme developed as an intervention for female victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

Pictured: Dr Laura Newington.

It provides training for staff based around the advocacy and support available for female patients and their families who are victims of domestic abuse, discussion of care pathways and most appropriate local and national support services for male patients who are victims and survivors.

Abuse can come in many forms including physical and sexual violence, coercive and controlling behaviours, financial control, isolation, entrapment and stalking.

The chosen partner to deliver the training to GP practice staff in Swansea Bay is Calan DVS, which is one of the largest domestic abuse charities in Wales.

Advocate educators from Calan DVS and dedicated GP clinical leads work alongside each other to teach both clinical and non-clinical practice staff about how to identify if patients are potential victims of domestic abuse.

They cover topics such as how victims may present at the GP practice and how to approach the topic of domestic abuse safely and supportively with potential victims.

Once a trained member of staff has a conversation with a patient and gains their permission, they are able to refer them to the IRIS programme where they can receive help from experienced support workers at Calan DVS.

They engage with victims to fully understand the nature of their abuse and signpost them to appropriate services whilst supporting them closely throughout.

By the end of November, around 80 per cent of GP practices in Swansea Bay will have received the training – with the aim of training the remaining 20 per cent by March next year.

Dr Laura Newington is a GP at Ty’r Felin Surgery, in Gorseinon, and is Swansea Bay’s clinical lead for the IRIS programme.

She said: “As clinical lead for IRIS, my surgery was aware of the project early after its introduction in Swansea Bay.

“My colleagues were keen to receive the training to enable them to identify and refer patients with an experience of domestic violence and abuse for specialised, appropriate and safe guidance and support.”

Clinical staff receive two training sessions, which are both two hours long, while reception and admin staff take part in a one-hour session.

Refresher sessions are also available to staff who have previously taken part in the training.

Laura said the training had helped staff to talk about domestic abuse in a safe way, which has led to open conversations which may not have happened beforehand.

“We have been able to improve our awareness and approach to domestic violence and abuse in primary care,” she added.

“We have enhanced our skills in identifying those at risk and being able to ask directly about domestic violence and abuse in a safe and appropriate way.”

Not only have practice staff in Ty’r Felin Surgery benefited from the training sessions but so have trainee doctors too.

Laura said: “We are a training practice for GP trainees and medical students.

“GP trainees working with us have benefited from IRIS training too.

“When these doctors qualify as fully-trained GPs, they will already have awareness and experience in this important area.

“It will hopefully continue to improve the response to domestic violence and abuse and essentially improve the quality of life, safety and well-being of survivors.”

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