Leading Royal Colleges unite to tackle domestic violence

on 26 November 2020 Midwifery NHS covid-19 Covid-19 Midwives RCM RCOG - Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists RCOG Domestic Abuse Joint statement

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have published a statement calling for an end to end the ‘scourge’ of domestic abuse, estimated to cost England and Wales £66 billion per year. The Colleges urge maternity staff to work collaboratively to identify women experiencing, or at risk of, abuse which has spiralled during the pandemic.

Domestic abuse affects one in four UK women and is more likely to begin and worsen during pregnancy. As well as the physical impact, there is also the mental trauma that comes from domestic abuse. More than 40% of survivors develop mental health problems including anxiety and depression, says the Colleges’ joint statement.  They are also more likely to develop serious, long term illnesses and die prematurely. Domestic abuse in pregnancy can also seriously affect the developing baby says the statement, doubling the risk of preterm birth and low birth weights.

“Pregnant women have been especially vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse during this pandemic, and they need to be more than just another grim statistic,” said RCM Chief Executive Gill Walton. “Midwives are in a unique position to support pregnant women to access the help and support they need. While the pandemic has made that more challenging, we are calling on maternity colleagues to work collaboratively to identify and support women at risk, and on the UK governments to ensure services are properly and sustainably funded so that women can keep themselves and their baby safe,” she added.

In the statement published at the start of the UN’s 16 days of action against gender-based abuse, the two organisations have called for sustainable funding for high-quality, specialist training of all healthcare professionals, funded specialist mental health support for survivors. They also say all health services need to commit strategically to respond to domestic abuse, and for health settings to have Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors.

Calling for the problem to be addressed as a matter of urgency, the RCOG President, Dr Edward Morris, said the pandemic has made it more challenging for healthcare professionals to spot the signs of domestic abuse because many appointments are now done via video calls or on the telephone. “What’s even more important is that healthcare professionals keep an open mind when speaking to patients and don’t overlook anyone because they don’t ‘look’ like someone experiencing abuse,” said Dr Morris. The Colleges have also recently published guidance on identifying and responding to domestic abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic for midwives, and for other health care professionals.

You can read the RCOG/RCM Statement on Domestic Abuse here.