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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 October, 2004, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Domestic abuse check for pregnant
Image of a distressed woman (picture posed by model)
Domestic violence affects one in four women
Mothers-to-be could be routinely asked about domestic violence as part of antenatal checks, under new proposals.

Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson announced plans to help cut domestic abuse at a London conference.

About 30% of domestic violence either starts or will intensify during pregnancy.

An advisory group will be set up to look at possible ways to include routine enquiries during antenatal visits.

[This] will ensure that help is given to women where and when it is needed.
Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson

It is hoped that by targeting woman during their pregnancies abuse can be picked up early and stopped before it escalates.

Ms Johnson said: "The fact that domestic violence often starts or escalates during pregnancy and is associated with increases in rates of miscarriage, low birth weight, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death makes for stark reading.

"By including routine enquiry when women go for ante-natal appointments, health professionals may be able to establish whether women are at risk or have experienced any domestic violence during their pregnancy.

Abuse

"This is an effective means of ensuring the appropriate support and advice is offered at an early stage and will ensure that help is given to women where and when it is needed."

A pilot project, funded by the Department of Health and carried out by the University of the West of England and the Bristol NHS Trust, found routine enquiries were well received by pregnant women and picked up cases of abuse.

It is estimated that one in four women will be affected by domestic violence in their lifetime.

Many of these go on to have mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.

Midwives and other healthcare professionals will now be better able to identify and help victims of domestic violence as long the government follows through with the adequate resources.
Dame Karlene Davis of the Royal College of Midwives

Also speaking at the conference, Women's Aid Director, Nicola Harwin CBE, said: "We know from working with women mental health service users that between 50% and 60% have experienced domestic violence, and up to 20% are currently being abused."

She said health professionals were well placed to identify women experiencing domestic violence and signpost them to appropriate support and information.

A Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill is currently making its passage through parliament.

It includes a range of measures to provide additional protection and support for people affected by domestic violence.

Health Minister Rosie Winterton said the government was looking at changing the situation where women experiencing domestic violence come into contact with up to 10 agencies before their needs are recognised.

"I am confident that with leadership, vision, dedication and skills of everyone involved, we can bring about a real transformation in health and social care for all the victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse," she said.

Dame Karlene Davis of the Royal College of Midwives said: "The RCM applauds the government for taking these new steps to aid victims of domestic violence.

"Midwives and other healthcare professionals will now be better able to identify and help victims of domestic violence as long the government follows through with the adequate resources these new support mechanisms require.

"These resources allied to the new steps will improve co- ordination of services and enable midwives and other healthcare professionals to undertake any further necessary training required."

Mary Newburn of the National Childbirth Trust said: "Finding out whether women are in a violent relationship is one thing; having the time, contacts and other resources to respond in a helpful way is something else.

"A domestic violence coordinator role would be helpful in ensuring that standards around identifying and supporting women suffering domestic violence are developed and monitored locally."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley MP said: "I think many mothers will be very offended by a routine inquiry of that kind and wouldn't expect it."

He added: "Some women will be alarmed and upset. It's just not the right policy; it risks offence and highly inappropriate relationships between midwives and mothers to be.

"If there's too much attention drawn to the fact that mothers are asked about this during antenatal care, it may give rise to threats and potentially even worse cases of domestic violence."


FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
TelegraphMidwives to ask: does your husband beat you? - 7 hrs ago
Mirror Midwives To Check For Abuse - 9 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Antenatal checks to include abuse query - 17 hrs ago
itv.com Mums-to-be face domestic violence probe - 29 hrs ago
Independent Pregnant to be questioned on home violence - 39 hrs ago
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SEE ALSO:
Bid to tackle domestic violence
30 Sep 04  |  Berkshire
Expectant mothers suffer violence
02 Jul 04  |  Manchester


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