Enabling health professionals to respond to domestic violence – lessons from New Zealand

A campaign billboard for ‘It’s not OK’.

Frontline health professionals must be better supported to identify and support victims of domestic violence, according to a report by nurse researcher Dr Caroline Bradbury-Jones, who last year spent eight weeks observing good practice in this area in New Zealand. Her travels were enabled by a Churchill Fellowship, in partnership with the Burdett Trust for Nursing.    

Domestic violence is a scourge on public health and wellbeing across the globe, responsible for significant morbidity and sometimes mortality. It is known to disproportionately affect women, with long-term impacts on their health, as well as their children’s.

Health professionals across a range of services, and particularly those who provide health services for women, are ideally placed to recognise and respond to domestic violence. However, there is evidence that they do not always have confidence in dealing with the issue. Dr Bradbury-Jones, who leads the Risk, Abuse and Violence research programme at the University of Birmingham, therefore decided to use her Fellowship to travel to New Zealand to find out how they had improved health sector responses to domestic violence.

Dr Bradbury-Jones was impressed with how health professionals in New Zealand are supported to have difficult conversations with women about domestic violence; she learnt about the use of small cue cards carried or worn by health professionals to help them identify, discuss and respond appropriately to domestic violence. She was also impressed with a campaign called ‘It’s not ok’ that uses billboards to raise community awareness of the problem of domestic violence, and seeks to challenge deep-rooted cultural and societal beliefs about domestic violence

Dr Bradbury-Jones’s report makes a series of recommendations, including piloting the use of cue cards like those she observed in New Zealand, and a campaign modelled on ‘It’s not OK’ aimed at raising awareness of domestic violence at a community level. She also argues that training on domestic violence for front line health professionals should be made mandatory and include a focus on child safeguarding.

Now back in the UK, Dr Bradbury-Jones aims to capitalise on the media attention generated by the forthcoming Domestic Abuse and Violence Bill in the UK parliament to promote her findings on this topic. She is also preparing articles on her findings for publication.

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