New Clause 5 - Support provided by the NHS to victims of domestic abuse

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 27th October 2021.

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“(1) Each Integrated Care Board must—

(a) assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for support for victims of domestic abuse using their services;

(b) prepare and publish a strategy for the provision of such support in its area;

(c) monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy;

(d) designate a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead; and

(e) publish an annual report on how it has discharged its duties relating to the provision of services to victims of domestic violence under the Care Act 2014.

(2) An Integrated Care Board that publishes a strategy under this section must, in carrying out its functions, give effect to the strategy.

(3) Before publishing a strategy under this section, an Integrated Care Board must consult—

(a) any local authority for an area within the relevant Integrated Care Board’s area;

(b) the domestic abuse local partnership board appointed by the local authority for an area within the relevant clinical commissioning group’s area under section 58 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; and

(c) such other persons as the relevant local authority considers appropriate.

(4) For the purposes of subsection (4), “local authority” means—

(a) a county council or district council in England; or

(b) a London borough council.

(5) An Integrated Care Board that publishes a strategy under this section—

(a) must keep the strategy under review;

(b) may alter or replace the strategy; and

(c) must publish any altered or replacement strategy.

(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision about the preparation and publication of strategies under this section.

(7) The power to make regulations under subsection (7) may, in particular, be exercised to make provision about—

(a) the procedure to be followed by an Integrated Care Board in preparing a strategy;

(b) matters to which an Integrated Care Board must have regard in preparing a strategy;

(c) how an Integrated Care Board must publish a strategy;

(d) the date by which an Integrated Care Board must first publish a strategy; and

(e) the frequency with which an Integrated Care Board must review its strategy or any effect of the strategy on the provision of other provision in its area.

(8) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) all Integrated Care Boards; and

(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

This new clause would require Integrated Care Boards to publish a strategy for the provision of support for victims of domestic abuse using their services and designate a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

For Opposition Members in Committees of this type, as we assemble the issues that we prioritise in proceedings, we have to be a bit of a magpie and pinch things along the way, so I want to recognise that this new clause is pinched from the hon. Member for Newton Abbot. I am grateful to her for tabling this and for the level of thought that she put into the amendment, which is a very good one.

Earlier in the proceedings, we discussed integrated care board plans and their responsibility to engage with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. I was grateful for the commitments that the Minister made. There was a common understanding that the health and social care system has a crucial role in both preventing and tackling domestic abuse and in supporting victims and survivors. That sounds self-evident, but we are not in that position in this country yet, and we could do much better. I hope we can build on that consensus with the new clause, which requires integrated care boards to publish a strategy for the provision of support for victims of domestic abuse using their services and to designate a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead.

I will not repeat the arguments that I made earlier regarding the scale of domestic abuse, but it is worth reiterating top lines, particularly the global statistics from the World Health Organisation, which show that 30% of women have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. In this country it is one in four, so it is of a similar order of magnitude. The Government’s own estimate is that it costs health services £2.3 billion annually. A common refrain from the sector, with which I meet a lot, as I did before coming to this place, concerns the impact it could make with a fraction of that money if it was put into statutory services or the services that it provides. We should think about that investment model.

In discussing the new clause, I want to take the opportunity to cover something that we have not previously considered, namely domestic abuse, which tends to be against women but also concerns people with disabilities. According to Stay Safe East, disabled people and, most specifically again, disabled women, experience higher rates of domestic abuse than those who do not have disabilities. Abuse against women with disabilities is likely to be more violent and to happen over a longer period before the victim discloses it or can access help. The really sad thing is that if the victim––who is living with a disability––is not heard, there is a significant risk that they will then be sent home by the system to be cared for, in the very loosest sense, by their abuser. None of us would want that but it is the sort of thing that happens at the moment because we do not have a strong enough grip. I hope that we can use the new clause and the Bill generally to take more active steps to address that problem.

There is clearly a significant need for specialist domestic abuse services, which are crucial to enable women’s recovery in particular. Often, such services take on the work of statutory services and provide vital advocacy for women facing health exclusion, particularly in respect of services supporting black and minoritised women. It came out strongly in the debate on what is now the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 that we need specific and specialised services for those who are at greatest risk of being excluded. We did not quite get there in those provisions. I confess to using every legislative and parliamentary opportunity to keep pushing at this because it is really important and we can do much better.

We know that medical staff receive some training in adult safeguarding and, in a few hospitals, even on domestic abuse and sexual violence. But the skills and time to communicate with people with, say, learning disabilities or cognitive issues, with deaf survivors or with very elderly people who might be less likely to disclose personal information are not always available, and certainly not universally. The new clause seeks to put the onus on the integrated care system to get organised around this, to specialise and to prioritise it. It should be a priority across the system.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

Does the hon. Gentleman think that we also have a job to do socially in reducing the stigma? I have worked in casualty departments and as a surgeon facing women who had clearly been abused but were standing or lying there making excuses for their abuser and saying why it was their own fault. As well as women with disability, there are women with insecure immigration status or insecure financial status who have no money of their own and feel that they have nowhere to go. I support the principle here, but we have a much bigger job to do around domestic abuse, which is endemic across the UK.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention and completely agree with everything she said. For my part, and that of many of our colleagues, our way to tackle all those different barriers is to seek to put this in every bit of legislation. Most domestic legislation touches on these issues.

What is pertinent to this debate is thinking about the barriers to reporting. One barrier is the fear of not being believed. Of course, there is a bigger fear around prosecutions, which the Minister took a personal interest in when he was a Justice Minister, but it is clear from the evidence that we are not making enough progress. We have heard lots of positive sounds from the Government but no concrete proposals for change. We could do much better there.

On the barrier of not being believed, one way to create a better environment for a survivor to disclose what has happened to them is by their knowing that the person they are talking to in that healthcare setting has had training and works in a system that prioritises the safe disclosure of abuse. That would do a lot to build confidence. On the hon. Lady’s point about migration status, it is important that we talk about that. It was a key theme in the Domestic Abuse Act. There must be safeguards in place so that the disclosure of abuse trumps immigration status. The practitioner that they work with must be someone whose role is to help them address those issues, not someone who will be speaking to the Home Office. That first knock on the door will be someone trying to help them deal with the abuse and its impact on their life; it will not be from someone trying to resolve their migration status. That is an important principle.

Returning to the new clause, meeting with a professional social worker who ought be trained in assessing risks, including domestic abuse, might be the significant moment that an older or disabled person discloses domestic or other abuse. If given time and asked skilful questions in a safe environment, the person may disclose or express their fears, knowing they can do so in a protect manner. But across the country, such interventions are not falling into place on their own.

Women’s Aid’s data shows that in 2019-20, no refuge services responding to its survey were commissioned by their CCG, and just 10% of community-based services were. This is a multi-agency issue. I fought very hard to persuade Mrs Wheeler when she was Housing Minister that there ought to be investment and support going into the services through local government. She took that on, which was a good thing. Local authorities alone cannot tackle this issue. The picture that emerges from the evidence is that health agencies are not delivering as they ought to.

To be clear on what our modest ask is, subsection (1) states that each board must

“assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for support for victims of domestic abuse using their services”.

That is pretty basic. Following that, it must prepare a strategy, monitor that strategy and have an annual report on it, but particularly, under paragraph (d), it must

“designate a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead”, because we know that in organisations such as the police or health organisations, where they have designated such a person, that person has been impactful. Those are pretty basic requirements. On many occasions the Minister has said that the point of the system is to be a permissive one and to let local areas shape services in the interests of their population, depending on the challenges they face; but the reality is that this problem is in every community, and we ought to be clear to ICBs that we expect this kind of activity. Subsection (3) includes a modest ask for consultation, which is reasonable and desirable.

Women in particular, and all our communities, desperately need this issue to be given deliberate focused attention. There is a high degree of consensus on it, but that does not lead to action frequently enough. The appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, which we have discussed, was a welcome step, but from a health and social care perspective we need to do more in the system. At the moment, that is not happening. That is not because I think that commissioners, leaders and decision makers do not think it is important, but they have an awful lot on. This can be a hidden crime that goes on behind closed doors, and as such drops down the list of priorities because of the urgent pressures on them; but we cannot let it go. As well as the leadership that we try to display on a national scale, we must do more to encourage this on a local scale. In this case, that is in the strategies and plans of the ICBs. We should make sure that happens.

To conclude—this is in the same vein as what I said when we debated new clauses 1 and 2—we should in our remaining time seek to put in the Bill things that will change people’s health outcomes, and outcomes in life more generally. New clause 5 is one of those things, so I hope the Government are in listening mode.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 10:45 am, 27th October 2021

I put on record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot and to the hon. Member for Nottingham North for enabling this discussion to take place in Committee today. I find myself in deep agreement with the idea that the NHS can play a vital role in protecting vulnerable people and, as part of that, it must have strategies and processes in place for supporting victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of harm.

The hon. Gentleman was kind to refer to my stint at the Ministry of Justice, when as Victims Minister I took a close interest in this issue with Dame Vera Baird, the former Member for Redcar, in her role as Victims’ Commissioner—I pay tribute to her—and with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins. My hon. Friend and I worked on the early stages of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and she saw that work through—I had moved to this role by then—before receiving a well-deserved promotion. I took a close interest in this issue when I was in the MOJ, and hon. Members from across the House will have found that it is not forgotten or left behind; we always reflect on it and see how we can continue to play a part when in other roles.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire was right to highlight the challenges that many people feel. The stigmas are completely unjustified, but people feel them because of the nature of the abuse and the controlling and coercive behaviour to which they have been subjected. When I was at the MOJ, I discovered the limitations of legislation in this space. We can and should legislate in certain areas, but a lot of this is about how services work on the ground, how we talk about this as a society, and how we break down the stigmas. One of the key things that I took away from my time at the MOJ was that tackling domestic violence and abuse is not just the responsibility of the justice system or the NHS; it is our responsibility as a society. I hope I can reassure the shadow Minister. On some areas, we tend to find ourselves in agreement rather more than is perhaps good for either of our political careers, but on this I entirely share his sentiments.

Turning to new clause 5, I hope to reassure the Committee that placing in the Bill a formal duty on ICBs to develop a separate strategy is unnecessary and not the best approach, but I hope the Committee will allow me to expand on my reasoning. There are already several duties on CCGs to consider the needs of victims of violence, including victims of domestic abuse, through the joint strategic needs assessment process. CCGs must respond to identified needs through health and wellbeing strategies. The duties will be transferred to and continue to apply to ICBs once CCGs are abolished, and will be further strengthened by the requirement on ICBs to develop system level commissioning plans. Through the Government’s landmark new Domestic Abuse Act 2021—it would be churlish of me not to recognise the Opposition’s work on it—local healthcare systems will be required to contribute to domestic abuse local partnership boards.

I slightly caution against requiring ICBs to create further additional strategies and plans, separate from those already in the Bill. I recognise the impulse to require NHS bodies to do this, because the theory is that a separate strategy will attract particular attention. My note of caution is because in doing so, we are saying, “We will put that over there, in that strategy” rather than having it as a thread that runs through all the strategies, underpinning strategic documents and plans of the local NHS and the ICB. We risk separating it and putting it in a different compartment from the wider span of integrated responsibilities, which is where it should sit.

The new clause also places a requirement on ICBs to have a domestic abuse and sexual violence lead. We agree with the principle, but we believe we can do that effectively through existing legislation and guidance. As set out in the Government’s recent violence against women and girls strategy, the Department of Health and Social Care will be engaging with integrated care systems and providing guidance to promote best practice in addressing violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual violence. That could well include advice on designated leads and those internal structures and processes.

Beyond ICBs, I see a huge opportunity for integrated care partnerships to support improved services for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and other forms of harm through better partnership working. I am sure we have all undertaken visits to women’s refuges or to other charities that support women who are victims of domestic abuse. I should just say that it is, of course, true that men and women can be victims of domestic abuse. I refer to women in this context because an overwhelming number of victims are women, but it can happen to anyone, irrespective of gender.

In my previous role, I had the privilege of meeting survivors of domestic abuse, who were willing to talk to me about what had happened and their recovery from and survival of domestic abuse. In those conversations, people would often say, “I dealt with one agency, but it did not talk to this agency and this bit did not join up.” There is a real opportunity for the ICPs to work with housing providers, local authorities, the NHS and other voluntary and third sector organisations to help to bring together a more coherent and joined-up approach.

More broadly, I assure the Committee that the NHS will be at the forefront of stepping up to its responsibility to play its part in tackling domestic abuse, sexual violence and violence against women and girls. NHS England is developing enhanced trauma-informed mental health support for victims with the most complex needs within the sexual assault and abuse pathway. The DHSC’s new office for health promotion will work with the newly merged NHS England to review and build on workforce policies to ensure safe, effective processes are in place to support staff affected by domestic violence and sexual violence.

I hope I have reassured the Committee that we take this issue extremely seriously. Although we do not think that the approach proposed in the new clause is the right one, I am open-minded and happy to work across the aisle to see if there is more we can do in this space, in keeping with the strategy set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle when she was at the Home Office, and to see if there are other ways to achieve essentially the same objective.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said, and I agree with significant elements of it. I take the point about existing duties on CCGs, and I am very mindful of those. The reality is that they do not work, or they certainly have not worked to date. I have no confidence that anything will change if current arrangements are just ported over to integrated care boards, which is what will happen. I do not think anything will change. I cannot imagine what will have changed in that moment to make it different, and I cannot therefore agree with the characterisation that the new clause is unnecessary.

I accept that we would not want to see a proliferation of further strategies. By making it a requirement, the new clause seeks to put the treatment, assessment and care of domestic abuse on the same footing in integrated care as elective care or major diseases. It should have that status, and at the moment it does not. It needs to be elevated to that level. I do not disagree at all with the Minister’s point about domestic abuse being a thread that runs through all policies. The reality is that we have been saying that for a really long time. What actually happens is that it is in everything and, as a result, it is in nothing, and things do not change. Certainly, they are not changing quickly enough in the health space.

Finally, on the point about integrated care partnerships, I hoped that the Minister would not say what he did, because that is the problem. The fundamental issue is that those who are making the direct daily decisions about health and care in our communities are downgrading the issue by considering what they do not as operational, daily, immediate, crucial decisions—in the way they would with elective care or cancer care—but instead as partnership work.

I would never talk down the pledges that we sign or the awareness days we do. I have signed all the pledges and gone to all the awareness days, and I will keep doing that because it is an important way of keeping the pot boiling. However, I am not convinced that they have done enough to make my constituents safer or give them a better health service. I have seen no evidence of that yet. This is not partnership work, but daily, crucial work that ought to be done by system decision makers, who ought to be prioritising it every day, but I do not think that is the case.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

If I was unclear, I apologise; that was not the intention of what I was saying. I sought to say that that partnership work brings together organisations that, I believe, do focus on the issue day to day and have it as an operational priority, but often still operate in silos. In some of the best partnerships in the best local authority areas, those silos are much less evident. My point about the ICP was not as an alternative to making this front and centre, and asking “What are you doing in your operational decision making?”—be it about elective care, cancer or domestic abuse, and treating them the same—but that often it operates in a way that is internal to those organisations, rather than across them.

That was the point I was trying to make about partnership: not only do we need that internal process and urgency—I totally share the hon. Gentleman’s view on that—but we need the ICPs to offer an opportunity to do that by bridging organisations. I hope that adds a little clarity, if I was unclear.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

It does, and of course I would not want to misrepresent what the Minister said. My point is that, while of course we should seek to work across the partnership and have a cross-partnership approach to tackling this issue in our communities—that is a very good thing to do—the problem currently is that that means we are not doing enough in the health and care space. There has to be something that says to health leaders, “Yes, work in partnership, but there are bits that you have to do yourselves that at the moment you are not doing well enough, so please do them.” This is my “something”. That was my logic in tabling this new clause, and it is why I intend to push it to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 38 Health and Care Bill — New Clause 5 - Support provided by the NHS to victims of domestic abuse

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.