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Over 200 GPs and practice staff attend new program to identify and support victims of domestic family violence.

The Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (PHN) is one of six PHNs to lead a Commonwealth funded initiative to build capacity in primary care providers to recognise, respond, refer and record patients who are experiencing domestic family violence and further integrate the domestic family violence service sector, in with primary care, so patients can receive the right support, at the right time.

The PHN Chief Executive Officer, Richard Nankervis said that the government has invested in this initiative due to the high prevalence of domestic family violence within general practice. “Research from Melbourne University found that for a full time GP, they would see five women per week, who are experiencing domestic family violence, however only 9 out of 10 GPs are asking the question or starting the conversation.”

Over the past 6 months, 82 general practitioners, 58 nurses, 4 Aboriginal health workers and 70 general practice administration staff have completed The Readiness Program in the Hunter New England and Central Coast region alone.

The newly developed, 10-year National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children advocates for a coordinated and integrated response to violence against women. The plan states that health services, including general practices, should enhance cross system processes with specialist family violence services and other agencies so that services are linked and easy to navigate for victim-survivors (Department of Social Services, 2022). General practitioners and other health services are well positioned and have a key role to play in preventing and responding to family violence.

Local GP Colette Hourigan who is working with The PHN to deliver The Readiness Program says GP registrars do not receive any training regarding the identification or management of domestic violence victims within primary care. “Women and those experiencing domestic violence want to talk about what’s happening to them. People trust their GPs so it’s a perfect place for women to get the help they need.

“The program teaches GPs how to start the conversation and where to refer a patient who has reached out for help. The GPs who have attended the training session have said that it is all they have needed to gain the confidence to ask questions.”

One patient who has escaped domestic violence with the help of her GP has shared her experience. “I experienced domestic violence over a long period of time. It started with emotional abuse which overtime became physical and then resulted in death threats. I had become isolated from everyone as he had made me leave my job and I had no access to our bank accounts.

“I turned to my GP for help because I didn’t know who else to turn. My GP was extremely patient. She was well aware that I was in a domestic violent relationship prior to myself being able to recognise this. She helped me by gently reassuring me that his behaviours were not normal, and she supported me until I told her that I wanted to leave. I honestly felt as though she was standing by my side being my advocate – which on many occasions she was. Her confidence provided me with strength.” (Full patient story available).

Shannon Richardson, Pilot Program Manager says that the program advocates for a whole-of-practice response that is well connected to the domestic family violence service sector. “Within the program we have developed a Domestic Family Abuse Violence GP Action Plan, designed to enable clinicians to identify patients at immediate risk, plan, manage, record and refer via an integrated referral pathway for general practice to communicate to specialist DFV workers for patient support.

“The pilot is currently funded until June 2022, so we are encouraging general practice to reach out for support, as they are so incredibly vital in responding to domestic family violence.”

To learn more or register for the program visit: Domestic & Family Violence - Primary Health Network (

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