Health and Wellbeing

Innovative domestic abuse and sexual violence programme launches in Devon and Torbay

Posted on: 26 November 2018

A national programme to help GPs identify patients experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence and refer them to specialist support services is being rolled out across Devon and Torbay.

Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) is a successful general-practice based domestic abuse and sexual violence training and referral programme developed and coordinated by the social enterprise, IRISi. 

It’s the first of its kind in Devon and Torbay and will see domestic abuse and sexual violence specialists (known as IRIS Advocate Educators) work in partnership with local clinical leads to co-deliver training and support in up to 50 general practices across Devon and Torbay.

The IRIS programme is aimed at helping clinicians to identify women aged 16 years and over who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse from a current or ex- partner or adult family member and to offer them a referral to an Advocate Educator. It also helps to ensure that men who are affected by domestic violence and abuse can access support.

In Devon and Torbay the programme has been expanded to include sexual violence for the first time. This will encompass identifying women aged 18 years and over who are affected by historic childhood sexual abuse and recent or historic rape or sexual assault and will also provide information and signposting for men who are affected by sexual violence.

The programme is a partnership between an Advocate Educator, based in a local specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence service, and a local clinical lead, typically a safeguarding GP or Advanced Nurse Practitioner. Together they are responsible for co-delivering the initial training and work closely to offer ongoing peer support for colleagues across a group of practices in their local area. The Advocate Educators work within the GP practice and move around the local group so clinical staff can directly refer patients to them for expert help quickly.

This collaborative approach is already proving highly successful in over 1,000 general practices across England and Wales, not only in helping patients but also reducing NHS costs.

Recent research estimates that IRIS costs the NHS just £6 per woman and saves £14 per woman over ten years from a societal perspective and increased quality-adjusted life years.

Dr Paul Johnson, GP and Chair of NHS South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group, said:

“The NHS spends more time dealing with the impact of violence against women and children than any other agency and is often the first point of contact for those who have experienced abuse.

“GPs and their primary care colleagues have a responsibility to ensure victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence get the support they need.

“The scale of domestic abuse and sexual violence means that they will encounter patients daily who are victims or at risk.

“By training clinical staff to recognise the signs and symptoms of domestic abuse and sexual violence, ask the right questions at the right time and in the right way, we can encourage those experiencing abuse and violence to speak up and make sure that they get the help and support they need as quickly as possible.”

The two-year project is the result of a successful joint bid by Devon County Council and Torbay Council to the Home Office’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Transformation Fund and forms part of the authorities’ work to end domestic abuse and sexual violence in Devon.

The limited funding is being used to roll out the IRIS programme in parts of Devon and Torbay, and although it isn’t enough to include all 107 GP practices in the area, 50 practices have volunteered to take part in this initial phase, with the hope that IRIS will become sustainable through universal health commissioning from 2020.

The initial training phase is already underway at 14 GP practices, reaching over 30 staff including GPs, nurse practitioners and non-clinical roles.

Cllr Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said:

“Our campaign against domestic abuse and sexual violence has made significant progress in recent years, and we have worked hard to develop a robust strategy to transform public services so that we can respond to increasingly complex needs.

“We know that we can improve on the current system so that opportunities to recognise domestic abuse and sexual violence are not missed, and patients can benefit from earlier intervention and support.

“Victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence often believe their doctor or nurse at their local GP practice is one of the few people they can confide in about what they are experiencing.

“However, these primary health care providers report being largely unaware of the advice or interventions available locally. They also do not feel that they have received adequate training in how to identify or enquire if someone is experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence and respond sensitively and appropriately with enough compassion, coordination and impact.

“The IRIS programme has been proven to change this by giving clinicians the tools they need to identify victims at an early stage, which not only improves their outcomes but can also have a positive impact on families and children and can change the course of their lives.”

News of the IRIS roll-out in Devon and Torbay comes as the world shines a spotlight on domestic violence through ‘16 Days of Action’ – the international campaign to inspire action to end violence against women and girls, which runs from ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’ and ‘White Ribbon Day’ on 25 November to ‘International Human Rights Day’ on 10 December.

Cllr Julien Parrott, Executive Lead for Adult Services at Torbay Council, said:

“A staggering one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. This must change.

“We are committed to tackling domestic abuse and sexual violence in Devon and Torbay, and our plan to achieve this focuses on improving identification and intervention as well as encouraging prevention.

“General Practice staff have an essential role in responding to and helping prevent further domestic abuse and sexual violence by successfully identifying victims, intervening early and providing information, support and treatment by referring patients to specialist support services.

“The IRIS programme does exactly this by connecting vulnerable individuals to the right services and support as quickly as possible.

“Working in partnership with GPs and their colleagues is the key to its success. Local surgeries are where most people receive their care so they are often the first and only point of contact with health care professionals for thousands of our residents.

“The launch of this programme in GP practices across Devon and Torbay is an excellent example of how everyone coming together and making a joint effort can make a real difference.”

Lucy Downes, Regional Manager for IRISi, the social enterprise that developed and coordinates the IRIS programme, said:

“We are delighted to see the expansion of the IRIS network into Devon and Torbay.

“Including sexual violence within the IRIS programme supports our vision of promoting and improving the healthcare response to gender-based violence.

“Sadly, 26% of women experience domestic abuse during their lifetime, whilst for women attending general practice this figure can increase to 41%.

“We know that by expanding the scope of the IRIS programme we will increase the reach of the service and the primary care response to many more patients who have experienced violence and abuse will be improved.”

image credit: Designed by

4 comments on “Innovative domestic abuse and sexual violence programme launches in Devon and Torbay

  1. Yes, the IRIS programme is unbalanced in terms of its provision of advocacy and support for women compared to men. This is because there is a huge weight of evidence that women are disproportionately affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence, and the IRIS programme developed in response to this.

    Of course, men experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence need access to appropriate specialist services. Although the IRIS programme doesn’t provide this in terms of direct advocacy and support, the IRIS training for clinicians does include discussion of the care pathways and most appropriate local and national support services for male patients who are victims and survivors too. In Devon the IRIS programme is being delivered by Splitz, who support both female and male victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, so men can be quickly referred to appropriate local services.

    Evidence suggests that male victims and survivors tend to want different types of services and support to those needed by female victims and survivors. IRIS is proven to be an effective intervention for women, but findings from a recent pilot which looked at the feasibility of expanding the model to offer advocacy to male patients, perpetrators, and children affected by domestic abuse didn’t support the idea of an equivalent service being effective or appropriate for men.

    • Julia Dando says:

      Nobody is disputing that gender-inclusive services should cater for specific gender needs. My concern is the perpetuation of false information that Domestic abuse and violence is a gendered crime.

      Your “huge body of evidence” is biased. Created by “crime statistics” (when men are far more likely to be labeled a perpetrator even when they are the victtim) and research funded by feminist groups who have an interest in having these myths continue.

      Look at the real research – look at the PASK project – worldwide scholarly research that confirms what actually we all see in front of our eyes. That the majority of domestic abuse and violence is reciprocal – and ACTUALLY where it is uni-directional WOMEN have been shown to be the more likely perpetrators. If domestic abuse was a gendered crime explain why domestic abuse in lesbian couples has been shown to be the most violent.

      Listen to Erin Pizzey – you remember her? The person who started the refuges in the UK (in the world). She always maintained the truth. Domestic abuse and violence is a generational issue and NOT a gender issue. As long as you deny this – YOU keep abuse alive and strong.

      Risk assessments are biased. Social Services are biased. Caffcass is biased. The police are often biased. DA Agencies are biased. The Government is biased. And while you keep perpetuating this bias – men will continue to see suicide as their only option to escape.

      This has to stop! All abuse….not just for women and girls – for everyone.

  2. Julia Dando says:

    Domestic abuse and violence is a generational issue NOT a gender issue. Great that you’re helping women victims but STOP spreading this myth that domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women! Every minute your spread this false message YOU silence every victim who is not female.

    Look at the REAL research around DA/IPV and you’ll find the true story.

  3. John Allman says:

    There appears to be some gender-asymmetry involved.

    For example, “The IRIS programme is aimed at helping clinicians to identify women aged 16 years and over who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse from a current or ex- partner or adult family member and to offer them a referral to an Advocate Educator. It also helps to ensure that men who are affected by domestic violence and abuse can access support.” That definitely suggests that an inferior level of service is provided to male DV victims.

Posted in: Community | DCC Homepage | Health and Wellbeing