Northern Ireland news

GP pilot to help surgeries support those experiencing domestic and sexual abuse

Research has shown that abuse is directly associated with many physical and mental health GP attendances, but under diagnosed

FAMILY doctors will begin helping to refer male and female victims of domestic and sexual abuse to specialist support through a new pilot programme.

The Department of Health has launched the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) programme in 16 GP practices in east Belfast and the Newry and Mourne area.

It is a collaboration with Women's Aid, Men's Advisory Project, Nexus NI and Victim Support NI.

Health Minister Robin Swann said it aims "to better equip GPs, practice nurses and other professionals within primary care to spot the signs of domestic and sexual abuse earlier and to connect victims to the right services as quickly as possible".

"Domestic abuse is all too common within our communities and we need to use every opportunity to help people get the support that they need.

"Our primary care services are uniquely placed to identify and support victims of domestic and sexual abuse and I welcome general practice's involvement in this IRIS pilot."

During 2020/21 there were 31,196 domestic abuse incidents reported to the police and 3,335 sexual offences in Northern Ireland.

Mary Larkin, IRIS clinical lead for Newry and Mourne said "research has shown that abuse is directly associated with many physical and mental health presentations (attendances) in primary care, but under diagnosed".

This is is partly due to "lack of awareness and knowledge about where to refer victims" - issues addressed by the programme.

It provides training for each practice and the support of an advocate educator for the practice team to refer victims to and who will support both the victim and surgery staff.

The initiative could be extended to other GP practices across the north "in the years ahead".

Anyone concerned about or experiencing domestic or sexual abuse can call the Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline free 24/7 on 0808 802 1414.

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