Managing family violence amid a pandemic

Paul Hayes

23/06/2020 12:39:30 PM

A new RACGP resource is designed to help GPs manage phone and video consultations as rates of abuse and violence rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Woman on the phone
With so many telehealth consultations during the pandemic, it is important for GPs to recognise potential indicators of violence over the phone.

Australia has begun to emerge from its coronavirus restrictions, but the prolonged lockdown – and the ensuing need for people and families to spend much more time together – has affected different people in different ways.

‘Some partners and family members will have spent considerable periods of time together at home … which can lead to increased stress and conflict. It is a sad and unfortunate reality that the COVID-19 pandemic will have increased cases of family and domestic abuse and violence in Australia,’ RACGP NSW&ACT Chair Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe said.

As such, Associate Professor Hespe understands how vital family violence support is for those experiencing it, as well as the healthcare professionals trying to help. The RACGP’s new COVID-19 and family violence support fact sheet includes information on managing phone and video consultations, as well as the college’s professional development program.

‘The respite that some people may have had from abuse and violence when an abusive family member was away at work will have been taken away, exposing them to greater risk of harm,’ Associate Professor Hespe said.

‘So we must do all we can to ensure GPs are equipped with the skills and resources to help people experiencing abuse and violence and ensure they get the support they need.’

In addition to helping manage phone and video consultations in a safe way, the three-page fact sheet includes information on the indicators of family violence, approaches GPs can take, resources and services, and more.

According to Dr Elizabeth Hindmarsh, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Abuse and Violence in Families network, GPs are well placed to recognise potential signs of violence.

‘There may be behavioural indicators such as short or one-word answers, or you may notice frequently missed appointments and check-ins,’ she said.

‘A GP may also notice indicators of control such as a partner or family member repeatedly answering the household phone or hanging around in the background during a consultation phone call. This is particularly pertinent during this pandemic because more consultations are being undertaken via phone or video technology.

‘GPs have many tools at their disposal that must be deployed tactfully to keep the patient safe. We should ask about abuse or violence only when speaking with the patient one on one, and ask whether there are children in the house and whether they are safe.’

The new fact sheet comes after the recent announcement that the RACGP will receive $300,000 from the Federal Government to update its Abuse and violence: Working with our patients in general practice (the White Book) to assist the nation’s GPs in better recognising and responding to family violence.

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