A research study funded by NIHR ARC North Thames has been announced as the overall winner of the 2020 Royal College of General Practitioners Research Paper of the Year award.
The study, published in BMC Medicine, looked at 205 general practices across London that had implemented IRIS (Identification and Referral to Improve Safety), a training and support programme to help primary care teams identify and refer women affected by domestic violence and abuse (DVA). It showed that practices that implemented the IRIS programme saw a 30-fold increase in referrals received by DVA service providers, while practices without IRIS saw no increase in referrals.
Domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is a significant public health problem, with devastating impacts on the women affected, and substantial associated health and societal costs. These issues have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.
IRIS encapsulates a training, support and referral programme that encourages clinicians to ask about DVA when clinically relevant; recognise DVA in a woman’s life; discuss its impact on her health/wellbeing; and offer referral to a specialist DVA service. It is part of IRISi, a social enterprise to promote and improve the healthcare response to gender based violence.
Study lead Dr Alex Sohal from Queen Mary University of London said:
“This new work shows that implementation of the IRIS programme surprisingly remains highly effective at scale in day to day general practice. It allows GPs to engage constructively with DVA rather than turning their back on this vulnerable group of patients.”
Professor Rosalind Raine (Director, NIHR ARC North Thames) said:
“We were delighted to be able to fund this research, which has profound implications for women and their families in great need. Our findings are timely given the new Domestic Abuse Bill in which the Government has committed to investing in domestic abuse training for responding agencies and professionals."
The RCGP Research Paper of the Year gives recognition to an individual or group of researchers who have undertaken and published an exceptional piece of research relating to general practice or primary care.
The research paper was selected as the overall winner from 53 high-quality submissions and was recognised by the reviewing panel as being particularly relevant in the light of COVID restrictions and widespread reports of increased domestic violence during ‘lockdowns’.
The reviewing panel said:
“This programme of work, building on the IRIS trial, provides evidence that a system-level programme that embeds direct referral pathways to specialist domestic violence and abuse (DVA) agencies within health services, underpinned by face-to-face training of clinicians and their teams, including on-going reinforcement strategies, improves the case identification and referrals for DVA. This study exemplifies the need for recognition, support and compassion for this vulnerable group of patients.”
The study was led by Dr Alex Sohal in collaboration with ARC Professor Chris Griffiths, both from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and a team from QMUL and the University of Bristol Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC).
The winning research paper: Improving the healthcare response to domestic violence and abuse in UK primary care: interrupted time series evaluation of a system-level training and support programme (BMC Medicine, March 2020)