SOUTHAMPTON victims of domestic violence and abuse who are suffering in silence have a new escape route – thanks to specialist training of city doctors.

GP practices across the city have signed up to a new scheme that teaches them how to spot the signs of domestic violence and what action to take to help end the circle of abuse.

Already 70 patients have been directed to specialist support, giving them the strength and confidence to take those first vital steps to escape the clutches of their abuser.

Currently 16 out of the 37 GP practices in the city have completed the IRIS (Identification and Referral to Improve Safety) programme, with another five going through the process.

The scheme aims to equip doctors and other practice staff with the knowledge to spot the signs of domestic abuse – whether it is repeat visits to the surgery for minor issues or long-term anxiety and depression.

NHS Southampton City Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is investing £75,000 a year in a bid to train up all practices, however these costs will reduce once training has been completed.

Dr Steve Townsend, chairman of the CCG, said: “Domestic violence and abuse can take many forms – physical, emotional, psychological, sexual or even financial – and can affect women and men. All can have a huge impact on the person being abused, manifesting in genuine illness.

“The IRIS programme is a great help in ensuring our GPs are aware of how to approach this sensitive subject with patients, some of whom may have been the victims of domestic abuse for years without disclosing it to anyone.

“I’m really pleased that more than half of our practices have either completed or signed up to the programme. It can only be of benefit to our patients, and we have had excellent feedback from practice staff who have attended the training.”

Since the programme began a year ago, GPs have made more than 70 referrals to “advocate educators”, who provide specialist support to patients and who can refer to other specialist support services as required.

National IRIS implementation lead Medina Johnson added: “Southampton has embraced IRIS and the sign-up has been good. I would encourage practices which haven’t yet got involved to book their training so they can benefit from the experience of the IRIS team.”

The Southampton surgeries that are officially IRIS Domestic Violence Aware to date are:
• Alma Medical Centre
• Burgess Road Surgery
Newtown Health Clinic
• Linfield Surgery
• Bath Lodge Practice
• Stoneham Lane surgery
Lordshill Health Centre
Bitterne Park Surgery
• Chessel Practice
• Regents Park Surgery
• Old Fire Station Surgery
• Canute Surgery
Woolston Lodge Surgery
Spitfire Court Surgery (amalgamated with Woolston Lodge)
Weston Lane Surgery
• Ladies Walk Surgery