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What barriers prevent health professionals screening women for domestic abuse? A literature review

09 July 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 13



Domestic abuse is known to affect one in four women (although it is difficult to quantify) and has significant short- and long-term health implications. As people who often have regular contact with women in a variety of circumstances, including routine appointments, health professionals, particularly nurses and midwives, are in an ideal position to screen women for domestic abuse. However, it is recognised that there is a reluctance by some health professionals to undertake this important role.


To identify the potential barriers preventing health professionals from screening women for domestic abuse and to consider how these barriers could be overcome.


A literature review of electronic databases using predetermined search terms and inclusion/exclusion criteria was undertaken. Seven studies were identified for review, consisting of five qualitative and two quantitative pieces of research.


Several barriers to screening by health professionals were identified, including lack of training, education, time, privacy, guidelines, policies and support from the employer, with the most prevalent of these being a lack of training and education. Further research is required, specifically within the UK, to provide more details about how these barriers might be addressed.

Several terms are used to describe the abuse of a partner in a domestic setting, including ‘domestic abuse’, ‘domestic violence’ and ‘intimate partner violence (IPV)’ (World Health Organization (WHO), 2013; Department of Health (DH), 2013). For the purposes of this article, the term ‘domestic abuse’ will be used to encompass all these terms. It is recognised that there are varying definitions of domestic abuse, domestic violence and IPV (DH, 2013; WHO, 2013). The following definition, from the National lnstitute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which is currently used to frame national research and guidance, guided the enquiry described in this article:

‘The term “domestic violence and abuse” is used to mean any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling behaviour, coercive behaviour or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are family members or who are, or have been, intimate partners. This includes psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. It also includes “honour”-based violence and forced marriage.’

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