NHS England has issued a reminder to primary and secondary care managers on providing timely support to people experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse.
In a letter, sent to GP practices, CCGs and trusts on 20 March, senior NHS leaders highlighted the responsibilities of NHS staff and managers to protect victims.
It outlined staff’s ‘duty to support victims to ensure they receive timely care and support’, as set out in the NHS’ safeguarding framework, and emphasised that all parts of local NHS health services can support people seeking help during the pandemic. The letter, which follows the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in London, said: ‘In the last few weeks, many women are rightly coming forward to speak about the experiences they face of harassment, intimidation, assault and abuse.’
‘Our message to women at this time is simple – the NHS is here for you,’ it added.
Protecting patients and staff
The letter highlighted the key signs of domestic abuse and the services that are available for women.
It also reminded managers that domestic abuse and domestic violence ‘do not just affect patients’ and as an employer, NHS organisations have a legal obligation to assess any risk and support the health and safety of their employees.
‘As an employer, you can play an important role in reassuring employees that there is help and support available, including online support, helplines, refuges and local support services,’ the letter said.
It added: ‘We encourage you to cascade this information as you see appropriate. It’s important that we all ensure that the NHS is taking the right action to identify, safeguard and care for individuals in these very difficult circumstances, and more widely support patients against abuse.’
‘All organisations have a role’
The letter comes after the number of people receiving help from NHS Sexual Assault Referral clinics (SARCs) halved after the first lockdown compared with the previous year despite official figures showing that domestic abuse and sexual assault increased, according to NHS England.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that cases of domestic abuse increased by 7% from April to June 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
In July 2019, around 2,500 patients accessed SARC services, but that number had dropped to 1,250 in July 2020, NHS England said.
Kate Davies, NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning, said: ‘This is a key moment in time in the fight against domestic abuse and sexual assault, and NHS England is playing its part in helping victims get the help they deserve.
‘All organisations have a role to play in preventing violence against women, including the NHS, which is why today, myself and other senior NHS staff have written to all regional directors and leads to remind them of advice to NHS staff and how to spot signs of domestic abuse and the services that are available to help women and prevent further harm.’
Management in Practice’s sister title Pulse reported today (22 March) that GPs will be banned from charging up to £150 for evidence to support domestic abuse victims’ claims for civil legal aid when seeking protection.
The amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill was passed on 15 March by a vote in the House of Lords.