Training and support programmes improve primary care workers' ability to identify domestic violence among patients, a study suggests.
Researchers studied 51 (61%) of 84 general practices in Hackney and Bristol. Of these, 24 received a training and support programme, 24 did not receive the programme, and three dropped out before the trial started.
GPs in the 'intervention group' received practice-based training sessions, a prompt within the medical record to ask about abuse, and a referral pathway to a named domestic violence "advocate", who also delivered training and further consultancy.
Patients were not aware they were part of a study.
Clinicians were tested on the number of domestic violence victims identified and the number of referrals made to domestic violence advocacy services.
The study, published in The Lancet, found one year on from the second training session, the 24 intervention practices recorded 223 referrals of patients to domestic violence advocacy services and the 24 control practices recorded 12 referrals
Those practices that received training also recorded 641 disclosures of domestic violence, compared to 236 disclosures at practices that did not.
"Our findings reduce the uncertainty about the benefit of training and support interventions in primary care settings for domestic violence and show that screening of women patients for domestic violence is not a necessary condition for improved identification and referral to advocacy services," said the researchers.
"But very few patients raise it directly, making it very difficult area for GPs to broach and deal with."