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Criminal Justice

Women put at risk by mental health services failing to ask them about their experience of domestic abuse

Mental health services across England are failing women by not asking about their experiences of domestic abuse, according to new data in a report published today by Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.

The findings – based on results from Freedom of Information requests – show that more than a third (15) of NHS mental health trusts that responded (42 of 58) have no policy on ‘routine enquiry’ about domestic violence and abuse – in spite of The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.[1]

The report says that mental health services should be asking about domestic abuse in recognition of the high rates of violence and abuse experienced by people who access them. This is especially true for women; 38 per cent of women who have a mental health problem have experienced domestic abuse.[2]

The evidence in the report points to a postcode lottery in the support mental health services are providing to survivors. One trust said they asked just three per cent of patients about domestic abuse – when guidance says they should be asking everyone.

Agenda’s report, Ask and Take Action: Why public services must ask about domestic abuse, is supported by a group of charities, practitioners and other leading experts, and argues that while some health services are already required to ask about domestic abuse, this should be happening in a much wider range of public services if we are to truly protect women and offer appropriate support.

Some 1.3 million women experienced domestic abuse last year in England and Wales alone.[3] Research shows eighty five per cent of survivors sought help five times on average in the year before they got effective support, four out of five victims never call the police, but many will visit their GP as a result of the abuse they’re experiencing.[4] All public services could play a crucial role in recognising and responding to signs of abuse.

A recent National Commission of leading experts warned of the potentially devastating consequences for women who don’t get the support they need from public services because the signs of abuse are not picked up by professionals.[5] Without support, many go on to develop mental health problems or use drugs and alcohol to cope.

Agenda is calling for the Government to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to put a duty on all public authorities to ensure staff across the public sector are making trained enquiries into domestic abuse.

[1] The National Institute for Health and Care and Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph50/chapter/1-Recommendations#recommendation-6-ensure-trained-staff-ask-people-about-domestic-violence-and-abuse

[2]   Agenda (2016) Hidden Hurt. Available here: https://weareagenda.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Hidden-Hurt-full-report1.pdf

[3] ONS (2018) Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2018 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2018

[4] SafeLives (2016) A Cry for Health: http://www.safelives.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/SAFJ4993_Themis_report_WEBcorrect.pdf

[5] National Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Multiple Disadvantage (2019): https://weareagenda.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Breaking-down-the-Barriers-full-report-FINAL.pdf