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Pilot program to fill critical gap identified for victims of domestic family violence.

A critical gap in the current domestic family violence (DFV) environment has been identified and addressed with the development of a pilot program providing timely primary health care including both physical and mental health for the victim and their children.

The nurse-led outreach service, developed by the Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network (PHN), has been successfully launched on the Central Coast and run over the past 12 months.

Domestic Family Violence (DFV) is well recognised in Australia as a social issue, what is less recognised is its significant health impacts. DFV is the leading contributor to the burden of disease for women aged 18-44 years of age, higher than smoking, obesity, and alcohol misuse. The PHN

is leading a range of initiatives focused on getting help to people experiencing domestic and family violence faster.

The outreach pilot program identified many barriers to accessing health care for DFV victims including other priorities in escaping from DFV, but also increasing costs and waiting times to see GPs and specialists.

General Practitioner, Dr Colette Hourigan is leading the outreach program. “Working in this project has felt like third world medicine in a first world country. Due to their circumstances, even the most basic needs of the women and children are unmet. Women in these situations do not have money, time, or security to address the health needs of themselves or their children.”

“We’ve seen a wide range of issues in women including substance abuse, depression, and PTSD. Children are presenting with hearing loss and delays in their development, particularly in speech and language. We’re also seeing first nations women overrepresented in this cohort.”

The pilot model is based on evidence, with an innovation element that assertively offers best practice health care to women, children, and young people where they are residing whether this be within a DFV refuge, crisis accommodation or other alternative accommodation.

The Primary Care Outreach team (consisting of a specialist nurse working in tandem with a trauma informed general practitioner) provide immediate essential health and assessment services to DFV victims and their children and link them with the health and specialist supports they need to prevent lifelong impacts resulting from their physical and mental trauma.

The program has been operating across three women’s refuge sites. Over the past 12 months the program has assisted 50 women and 30 children to access the health care they need.

The PHN Chief Executive Officer, Richard Nankervis said that a key focus of the model is to spearhead early interventions and supports for babies and children to amend the profound effects of DFV. “By investing in early targeted interventions and supports, the program aims to alter a child’s life trajectory, so they avoid entering the acute care phase as a result of the impacts of DFV on their development, hopefully bringing an end to intergenerational trauma.”

The PHN is seeking funding to continue and expand on the innovative pilot program on the Central Coast and develop a network of DFV Primary Care Outreach teams across our region. As evidence is collected to support the proposed outcomes and impacts the aim will be to scale the program across other geographical areas.

Mr Nankervis concluded, “Our long-term vision for this program is to ensure every refuge victim and their children, have access to the basic health care that they need and deserve.”

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For more information: Rebecca Brennan, Communications and Public Relations Manager rbrennan@thephn.com.au 0437 478 138

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