New Clause 56 - Domestic violence training for GPs

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 28th October 2021.

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“(1) The National Health Service Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 83B (inserted by paragraph 3 of Schedule 3 of this Act) insert—

“83C  Duty concerning domestic violence and abuse

(none) Integrated care boards must ensure that specialist domestic violence and abuse training, support and referral programmes are universally available to all general practitioners.””—

This new clause adds a requirement for specialist domestic violence and abuse programmes to be available universally throughout general practice.

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.

Domestic abuse is an issue of significant interest across this place. We know that two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales alone. As we mentioned the other day, a quarter of women will experience domestic abuse in the course of their lifetime, which has devastating effects. It impacts on both the physical and mental health of survivors and their children, and it has a terrible cost in general to everybody, including a financial cost.

New clause 56 would impose a duty at a local level to ensure that GPs have access to specialist domestic violence and abuse training. It is something that would be very welcome, and we are proposing a duty for integrated care boards to provide that. GPs are a credible point of contact for people in violent relationships. Some 80% of women in a violent relationship seek help from health services first. In some cases, that is their only contact. Training for GPs is vital to ensure that such contact is of the best possible quality. A study of women in violent relationships in the Netherlands found that 50% of women who did not speak to their GP about the matter would have done so if the GP had been in a position to approach it. Moreover, 50% of the women who did talk to their GP did so because they hoped to be referred on, so they wanted to have a high-quality conversation with someone who knew the system.

From my time prior to this place and my experience in Nottingham, I have a lot of enthusiasm for the IRIS programme—the identification and referral to improve safety programme. A trial carried out by Bristol University found that the training programme led to up to six times more women receiving the help they needed, and that it boosted the number of referrals to specialist domestic violence agencies. After IRIS training, GPs reported being better able to assess domestic violence risks and a greater awareness of services, while 99% of service users felt listened to and 87% felt safer.

The evidence is that such training works. This is of course not the way in which we should write a new clause, but I am saying that IRIS should be universal or something like it. I would leave the “something like it” to the provider market and to commissioners but, in general, the principle is that all GPs should have training so that they can understand and act on domestic abuse and have the right resources to provide support and make skilful onward referrals, so that the system can wrap its arms around an individual who is trying to get out of an abusive situation. That would be exceptionally important for such women, and I hope the Minister will have some thoughts about how we can get to a universal, IRIS-like level of engagement with our GPs.

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

The new clause would require ICBs to provide specialist domestic violence and abuse training, support and referral programmes to all GPs, with the aim of strengthening the health response to domestic abuse and improving links between the NHS and voluntary sector support for victims. We have concerns about the new clause, which is why we cannot accept it, but I hope that I can set out to the shadow Minister my reasoning.

Domestic abuse, as we discussed yesterday when considering another proposed new clause, is a terrible crime, and it can have a devastating impact on victims and survivors. It is also important that we remember that children are often just as much victims as the victims themselves, through the experiences that they have of domestic abuse and domestic violence. The Government are clear that there is absolutely no excuse for abuse. Tackling domestic abuse and supporting victims, survivors and their children is a key priority for Government, now more than ever.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy will help to provide a whole-system approach to protect and support victims and their children. The measures in the 2021 Act seek to promote awareness by introducing a statutory definition of domestic abuse, and to recognise children, as I alluded to, as victims in their own right, in order to protect and support both, tackle perpetrators, transform the justice response, and drive consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse.

The 2021 Act also sets out the convening of local domestic abuse partnership boards, with healthcare representation. We recognise the key role that healthcare services play within a whole-system approach to tackling domestic violence. Healthcare services must identify signs of risk and harm, enable victims and survivors to come forward, and provide timely integrated care and support. We know how important it is that statutory agencies and professionals properly understand and react to domestic abuse. However, I hope that I can reassure the Committee that placing in the Bill a formal duty on ICBs to ensure that specialist domestic violence and abuse training, support and referral programmes are universally available to all GPs is not necessary.

General practice is delivered by multidisciplinary teams, rather than just GPs, and existing Care Quality Commission registration requirements include a review of practices’ safeguarding processes. In addition, NHSEI’s ICS people guidance sets an expectation that ICBs will foster learning and continuing professional development. Going further, the Bill, in proposed new section 14Z41 of the National Health Service Act 2006, imposes a duty that each ICB

“must, in exercising its functions, have regard to the need to promote education and training for the persons mentioned in section 1F(1)” of the 2006 Act.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Opposition Whip (Commons)

Again, I break the convention that Whips do not speak, because this issue is close to my heart. I listened carefully to the discussions yesterday, and to what the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North, and the Minister have said on the new clause, but if we looked at domestic abuse as a disease or virus, given the fact that it kills women, it kills people in their homes, and has mental and economic impacts that affect people’s overall health, we would certainly ensure that GPs were trained on it. Why can we not do the same thing with domestic abuse?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. In part, the reason is because this is sadly not a well drafted new clause. It is very narrowly drafted to GPs, not recognising the multidisciplinary nature of how healthcare is delivered in GP practices. I suspect that we all have correspondence from constituents—whether happy or unhappy—going to doctor associates, practice nurses and others. That is one of my key concerns, but let me articulate a little more what is already being done. I see where she is coming from. As I mentioned yesterday, I was the Minister with responsibility for victims of domestic violence, and of crime in general, when I was in the Ministry of Justice, so it is something that I am very familiar with. It is about raising awareness not just with GPs, but within the police and a range of agencies. My challenge, just before she intervened, was partly about the way the new clause is drawn, but let me articulate a little further our views on it. I am keen to do so before the business possibly collapses early in the House, and we have to adjourn in order that I can respond to the Adjournment debate.

Section 1F of the 2006 Act defines a wide group of people, covering persons who are employed, or who are considering becoming employed, in an activity that involves or is connected with the provision of services as part of the health service in England. That duty on ICBs would already cover general practitioners, but it goes wider. I appreciate that the new clause goes beyond training, so I will also discuss the support and referral elements that the hon. Member for Nottingham North talked about.

The NHS provides care and support to victims of domestic abuse through a range of healthcare services. This response is centred around ensuring that healthcare professionals are trained to spot the signs of domestic abuse and those at risk; to make safe and sensitive enquiry of the issue; to know where to refer people to get further support, and to know when and how to share information appropriately with colleagues and other organisations.

All NHS staff must undertake annual mandatory safeguarding training, which includes focus on domestic abuse. NHS England, NHS Improvement and Health Education England are reviewing mandatory safeguarding training for all health professionals to ensure that they are fully equipped with the key skills, knowledge and principles to protect all citizens. The Government published an online domestic abuse resource for health professionals and have developed a number of training modules with the Institute of Health Professionals, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

From 2018 to 2020, the Department managed £2 million of funding for the domestic abuse pathfinder programme, which created a model health response for survivors of domestic violence and abuse in acute, community and mental health services. The pathfinder toolkit was published in 2020 as the result of emerging promising practice at our pilot sites, coupled with the expertise of the pathfinder consortium of specialist domestic abuse organisations, to encourage best practice across the health system. Pathfinder has given us a model for our response to domestic abuse in healthcare. It is a model for integrated, joined-up and trauma-informed care and support, with healthcare settings and the voluntary sector working together.

As the shadow Minister mentioned, the Department of Health and Social Care has also funded the IRIS programme, to which I pay tribute. IRIS is a training, referral and advocacy model to support clinicians in better supporting patients who are affected by domestic violence and abuse, and to increase the awareness of domestic violence and abuse within general practice. IRIS is recognised by the DHSC as good practice, and via the National Institute for Health Research we funded a study that demonstrated the effectiveness of the IRIS programme at scale. I am delighted to note that the study won the 2020 Royal College of General Practitioners research paper of the year award.

I am proud that the Government have championed the building of that evidence base. I believe that it would not be best or appropriate, however, for the legislation to require local health and care systems to adopt specific programmes. Indeed, such detailed requirements would reduce local health and care partners’ flexibility to meet the needs of their local populations or to engage with particular local organisations and expertise in delivering their programmes.

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 and joint planning of services. The Government have also developed a cross-Government strategy for tackling violence against women and girls, and will develop a cross-Government domestic abuse strategy.

As committed to in the tackling violence against women and girls strategy, the DHSC will continue to work closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement to promote evidence-based approaches to tackling violence and abuse through guidance and engagement with the new system.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I am more than happy to wait for the domestic abuse strategy, but I really hope that such measures will feature in it, and that when the strategy goes around various Departments for their comments, the Minister will make a commitment—

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

May I make the offer to the hon. Gentleman that I or the relevant Minister leading on this—whoever is more appropriate—will engage directly with him?

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

That is very welcome, and in that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.