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Health staff urged to look out for domestic abuse

19 June 2007

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The British Medical Association (BMA) is calling for healthcare professionals to become more aware of domestic abuse.

Their report says healthcare staff should be trained in how to deal with domestic abuse so that they can ask the right kind of questions and respond appropriately.

The BMA add that abuse does not discriminate and affects many vulnerable groups, including disabled people and the elderly.

They have found that partner abuse is as common among heterosexual as homosexual couples.

Direct impacts of abuse can range from fractures and burns to post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain syndromes and seizures.

Indirectly, victims of domestic abuse may also suffer from stomach ulcers, artery disease and raised blood pressure.

The total cost of domestic abuse to services in England and Wales totals up to £3.1bn every year.

The report also highlights the need for health professionals to be aware of domestic abuse occurring in minority groups. For example, within the Asian community, so-called “honour crimes” can take place in extreme cases, either in the form of assault or killings.

Domestic abuse can occur in a forced marriage, where duress, physical or mental, is used to force a marriage to take place without the real consent of one or both parties.

Vivienne Nathanson, head of BMA Science and Ethics, said: “The figures we provide in this report are shocking, but perhaps more alarming is that they are likely to be grossly underestimated.

“Domestic abuse is an unspoken scar on our society and many individuals never report that they are victims.”

She recommends that health professionals should recognise that men can also be victims of abuse and calls for domestic abuse education programmes to be implemented in all primary and secondary schools.

She concludes: “Doctors and health professionals are well placed to help victims and their families and our message to them today is, ‘if you suspect abuse is taking place, it is important that you help you patient to discuss this.”