Over the past year, one conversation that seems to have come to the fore is around violence against women and girls. The pandemic has brought with it a rise in domestic abuse, while women are not the only victims, most domestic abuse is perpetrated against women. Of course, there was also the sad case of Sarah Everard earlier on this year, a case that I know struck a chord with people across the constituency and the country as a whole.
It is therefore timely and welcome that the Government has recently shared its Tackling violence against women and girls strategy. The consultation which informed The Strategy was completed by over 180,000 people and organisations which goes to demonstrate how crucial it is that women and girls, half of our population, can feel safe in their homes, streets, workplaces and anywhere else.
The Strategy promises to build on progress to date and includes new action to prioritise prevention, support victims, pursue perpetrators, and help make sure the police, education, local authorities, HM Prison and Probation Service and others work together more effectively. It is positive that this new work will bring the issue further onto the radar of local services and stakeholders in our communities. It is hoped that this will pave the way for a culture change that will reinforce how unacceptable it is for women and girls to be living in fear.
In addition, this year the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 passed. This included a statutory definition of domestic abuse, and established a Domestic Abuse Commissioner in law to provide accountability on failure and poor practice in service provision. It also introduced new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, to help prevent perpetrators from contacting their victims, as well as requiring them to take positive and responsible steps to change their behaviour.
While The Strategy and related consultations highlighted the need for healthcare services to be better involved in Domestic Abuse strategy and better informed on how to spot signs and signpost, I don’t feel that the ‘whole-system approach’ proposed in The Strategy extends to healthcare in the Bill. This is disappointing.
In Devon we have the only Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Lead role in a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in the whole country. I would like to see this rolled out nationwide as we move from CCGs to Integrated Care Systems (ICS) soon. I would also like to see Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) placed in every hospital to discretely advise and signpost individuals at risk as they come into contact with health professionals.
The role of health services in protecting domestic abuse victims is so crucial as victims often present to health services more often than other services, meaning that health practitioners are in a prime place to identify and signpost. Furthermore, one study found that 80% of female domestic abuse victims say they would tell a health practitioner, while only 1 in 5 say they will tell the police.
Going forward, I will be looking for opportunities in Parliament to enhance the role of health services in this domestic abuse agenda. One of these is the Health and Care Bill where I will be lobbying to create a statutory obligation for ICSs to have a Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Lead, and to regularly publish a strategy that details how they will be dealing with domestic abuse. While this will require additional work for ICSs to begin with, presently, the NHS carries the majority cost burden of domestic abuse so in the long term it will save money. Strategic work to highlight victims earlier and prevent the worsening of these situations not only helps a victim earlier, but may prevent greater costs down the line.
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