General Practice pilot supports those experiencing domestic and sexual abuse

Date published: 03 December 2021

The Department of Health is running a programme to help GPs identify and refer male and female victims of domestic and sexual abuse to specialist support.

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The Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (‘IRIS’) programme is currently being piloted in 16 GP practices in East Belfast and the Newry and Mourne area. It is a collaboration between primary care and specialist third sector organisations: Women’s Aid, Men’s Advisory Project, Nexus NI and Victim Support NI.

Speaking during the global 16 Days of Action campaign Health Minister Robin Swann, said: “Unfortunately we know that domestic abuse is all too common within our communities and we need to use every opportunity to help people get the support that they need. Our primary care services are uniquely placed to identify and support victims of domestic and sexual abuse and I welcome general practice’s involvement in this IRIS pilot.”

“The IRIS programme aims to better equip GPs, practice nurses and other professionals within primary care to spot the signs of domestic and sexual abuse earlier and to connect victims to the right services as quickly as possible.”

During 2020-21 there were 31,196 domestic abuse incidents reported to the police and 3335 sexual offences in Northern Ireland. Dr Mary Larkin, IRIS Clinical Lead for the Newry and Mourne area said: “Research has shown that abuse is directly associated with many physical and mental health presentations in primary care, but under diagnosed. The reason for this is multifactorial but includes lack of awareness and knowledge about where to refer victims. 

“The IRIS programme addresses these issues. Training helps develop the knowledge of the whole practice, whilst the support of an Advocate Educator provides a person for the practice team to refer victims to, who will not only see and support the victim but who will support and continue to educate the practice team.”

It is hoped that the pilot will provide evidence and learning that will lead to the initiative being extended to other GP practices across Northern Ireland in the years ahead.

Concluding Health Minister Robin Swann, said: “Anyone can be a victim of domestic and sexual abuse. Help is available. Please don’t delay, reach out and get the support you need.”

If you are experiencing domestic or sexual abuse, or you are worried about a friend or a relative, you can call the Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline free of charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0808 802 1414.

Notes to editors: 

  1. A number of GP practices in the Belfast and Newry and Mourne areas are being provided with the opportunity to participate in the IRIS pilot programme through the Health and Social Care Board.
  2. The development of IRIS with general practice is an action under the Year 6 Action Plan (2021/22) of the Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse Strategy, published jointly by the Department of Health and the Department of Justice.
  3. The IRIS Programme was developed by and it is exclusively delivered in partnership with IRISi, a not for profit organisation devoted to promoting and improving the healthcare response to gender based violence.
  4. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email:
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  6. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service For Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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