A new guide to help GPs recognise abuse and advise their patients has been launched by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

The information provided by the Irish College of General Practitioners helps GPs recognise and act on the indicators of Domestic Violence Abuse (DVA) which are not always obvious.

Surveys show that most people in Ireland do not object to being asked about DVA but only 12% of Irish women reported that they had been asked by their GP about violence.

The guide provides sample questions for GPs and practice teams to discuss the subject of DVA with their patients, and how to ensure the consulting environment in the practice protects victims' confidentiality.

Speaking at the launch, the ICGP’s Director of Women’s Health, Dr Nóirín O’Herlihy said it was not always easy to identify a patient experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

"For patients, it can be difficult to disclose it. It is important for GPs to be confident to ask patients about the possibility of domestic violence and abuse when it is safe. GPs are more likely to ask in high-risk situations, for example, during pregnancy," she said.

Dr O’Herlihy said it was vital that healthcare professionals such as GPs and their practice teams are aware of domestic abuse and can ask about it.

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Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said the guide would enhance the support already being provided by GPs to victims and it would ensure the consistent provision of appropriate referrals, ongoing support and follow up.

"I am currently leading work on a new whole-of-Government strategy to combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which will set an overall goal of zero tolerance in our society for domestic violence.

"This new plan will have a particular focus on prevention, and on ensuring victims are better supported, and initiatives like this guide help with both," she said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, former Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) President and Cork-based GP, Dr Mary Favier said at least 15% of women and 6% of men experience severe abusive behaviour from an intimate partner during their lives, and that the average person takes two to three years to disclose their experiences to anybody.

She said GPs should be alert to patients with any injuries, or if patients "say something a little different" to them, and should ask open-ended and empathetic questions, as well as provide support.

Dr Favier said a GP's first obligation is to support and listen to their patient, as well as ensure confidentiality, but added however that "confidentiality will have certain limits" if there is a threat of harm to an individual.

During the pandemic, women's refuges came under increasing pressure, with calls from women needing support increasing by an order of magnitude – in some cases by as much as 150%.

The number of protection and interim barring orders granted to victims of domestic violence in Dublin between July and September 2020 increased by 40% from the same time in the previous year, data showed.

The data, which corresponds with data from domestic violence charities, suggests that incidences of domestic violence rose during the pandemic.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, visit rte.ie/helplines.