The big story: sheltering from the storm

By Juliette Astrup on 23 November 2018 Midwives Magazine Domestic Abuse

Trusts and health boards can offer better support to maternity staff who are victims of domestic abuse.

Two-thirds of midwives and MSWs who have suffered domestic abuse said they sought support from their workplaces – but only around half of them actually received any help. Of the one-third that didn’t seek help, most said they were embarrassed and ashamed, or lacked faith in the system (RCM, 2018).

These were the main findings from an RCM online survey that formed the basis of the report Safe places? Workplace support for those experiencing domestic abuse, published in October.

The survey also asked HoMs and directors of midwifery (DoMs) whether their trust and health boards had policies for helping staff who suffer domestic abuse. Two-thirds said they had a policy in place, but only a quarter of them actually referred to it when dealing with cases of domestic abuse, a term that now covers psychological and emotional harm, coercion, control and manipulation as well as physical violence.

A follow-up freedom of information request revealed that 56 trusts in England have a defined policy for domestic abuse, two are developing one, and 57 have no specific policy – 40 of these claim that other policies cover abuse. All health boards in Scotland and Northern Ireland have a bespoke policy, as do six of the seven boards in Wales (RCM, 2018).

Shaky support

Over two-thirds of HoMs and DoMs surveyed felt they were active and able in supporting staff, but the wider responses from midwives and MSWs indicate that the support they receive is far from consistent. ‘I was allowed to stay overnight on my delivery suite to avoid going home to my abusive partner,’ said one. ‘I have been treated very badly by my place of work, absolutely no support or care and compassion,’ said another.

Janet Fyle, RCM professional policy advisor, says: ‘Midwives who are victims of domestic abuse are telling us they need help, but that they are not getting that help. How can we expect them to help and support pregnant women who might be in the same situation?’

Epidemic of abuse

The latest statistics in England and Wales show that one in four women have suffered domestic abuse at some point in their life (ONS, 2016). ‘We know that many people in the NHS experience domestic abuse,’ says Janet. ‘It happens all the time, yet it is something we have rarely talked about in midwifery.’

Steps need to be taken to remedy the problem, Janet says. ‘The NHS must have a clear policy to protect people who are suffering from domestic abuse. Managers need to be trained to recognise the signs and how to help their staff. Finally, independent support needs to be available, away from the clinical area, that provides suitable counselling and wider help and advice. It’s not just about physical and psychological harm.’

‘We know that women often lose their jobs as a result of domestic abuse or having to flee their home,’ says Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid. ‘Financial concerns are also a major barrier to women leaving abusive partners. Yet the workplace may be the only place a woman goes on her own, and might be her only avenue to access the support she needs to safely escape abuse.’

Domestic abuse in numbers

Midwives and nurses are 3x more likely to have been subjected to domestic abuse than the average citizen

  • 1 in 4 women in England and Wales have experienced domestic abuse
  • 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2017
  • 58,810 domestic abuse incidents were recorded in Scotland in 2016-17 and
  • 30,595 in Northern Ireland in 2017-18.

(PSNI, 2018; Cavell Nurses’ Trust, 2016; ONS, 2017; 2016; Scottish Government, 2017)

Training and services

NHS trusts and health boards can play a vital role in supporting victims of domestic abuse, the RCM report insists, calling for better training and support services.

Katie agrees: ‘We have called for trusts to invest in domestic abuse training to help staff give the right response to patients who are experiencing domestic abuse. But they also have to ensure that their own staff are supported. From being given time off to attend an appointment to being transferred to another office for her safety, employers can help someone stay safe and in employment.’

Women’s Aid wants the government’s upcoming domestic abuse bill to make employers introduce domestic abuse policies and training for managers and staff. Katie says: ‘We hope more survivors will have the confidence to speak out about the abuse and take the first important step to getting the help they need to rebuild their lives.’

Need help?


Women’s Aid:
Northern Ireland:


Cavell Nurses’ Trust. (2016) Skint, shaken yet still caring. (accessed 9 November 2018).

Office for National Statistics. (2017) Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2017. See: 30 October 2018).

Office for National Statistics. (2016) Intimate personal violence and partner abuse. See: 30 October 2018).

Police Service of Northern Ireland. (2018) Domestic abuse incidents and crimes
recorded by the police in Northern Ireland: update to 30 June 2018.
 See: (accessed 30 October 2018).

Scottish Government. (2017) Domestic abuse in Scotland: 2016-17 statistics. See: (accessed 30 October 2018).

RCM. (2018) Safe places? Workplace support for those experiencing domestic abuse. See: (accessed 30 October 2018).