Collaboration is a keyword that defines very well the work developed by IRISi, including IRIS, our flagship programme. The sense of partnership necessary for the improvement of the healthcare response to Domestic Abuse (DA) is something so intrinsic to the nature of our interventions that it is also reflected within the regions where they become reality, as happened recently in Lancashire.
Aiming to cover the areas that make up the region, including Blackpool, and Blackburn with Darwen, three third sector specialist services have come together to develop and successfully submit to a funding application to implement the IRIS programme. As a result, since February 2023, Lancashire Victim Services, Fylde Coast Women’s Aid and The Wish Centre are working collaboratively to ensure that more and more GPs can identify the signs of DA and have a simple referral route for their patients to reach the most adequate support.
Deputy director of safeguarding for the NHS in Lancashire and South Cumbria, Jane Jones explained that “IRIS will provide in-house DA training to 72 general practice teams across Lancashire as well as a named Advocate Educator to whom patients can be referred for support. Lancashire Victim Services will work in partnership with two other local third-sector DA service providers, Fylde Coast Women’s Aid (Blackpool) and The Wish Centre (Blackburn with Darwen) to deliver the programme, which will help to improve our response to victims and families and also increase practitioners’ confidence to ask questions and support appropriately.”
“The rollout should help to reduce barriers for victims and support referrals to domestic abuse support services, positively impacting over 700,000 residents in our region.” – Jane Jones, Deputy Director of Safeguarding for the NHS in Lancashire and South Cumbria.
Lancashire Victim Services: “Strong collaborative working relationships combined with extensive experience”
Research has shown that victims and survivors of DA commonly visit their doctors with symptoms that are indicators of the abuse they are experiencing. However, very few actually disclose what they’re going through, and some do not realise their conditions are a result of domestic abuse. “By making GPs and other staff more aware of the signs and more confident to ask questions, we create more opportunities for victims to access the help and support they need. Not everybody will be willing, ready or able to leave an abusive relationship, but this programme will enable them to seek confidential information about their options with a trained and experienced advocate so that they can make an informed decision”, says the Lancashire Victim Services team, which made the first move to bring IRIS to their area.
In the fiscal year ending in April 2022, this service received more than 13,500 referrals from victims and survivors of domestic abuse only in Lancashire. If these people had been identified through General Practices, it is possible that their pathway to receive support could have been shorter. Once Lancashire Victim Services spotted the funding opportunity for the IRIS Programme, they saw a chance to address this possibility and, also, to work side-by-side with other specialist partners. “As the project extends across Lancashire and surrounding regions, we knew we wanted to work closely with the local domestic abuse service providers in Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwin, namely Fylde Coast Women’s Aid and the Wish Centre”, they explain.
“Strong collaborative working relationships combined with extensive experience and knowledge of delivering services in our respective areas has made for an excellent partnership and we are confident that this will help us to reach many victims who might otherwise have not come forward for support”. – Lancashire Victim Services team
Fylde Coast Women’s Aid: “reaching more individuals in need of help and identifying further gaps to improve the overall response to domestic abuse”
Figures from the latest Joint Strategic Needs Assessment demonstrate that DA across Blackpool is alarming – in total, 3647 incidents were reported in the fiscal year ending in April 2021, a rate of 26.4 per 1000. “Blackpool is a coastal town with well-documented high levels of deprivation: lower life expectancy, child poverty and high levels of tooth decay, long-term unemployment, poor housing, drug and alcohol abuse, high rates of teenage pregnancy and crime”, says the Fylde Coast Women’s Aid team.
In 2019, FCWA had already delivered the IRIS Programme and, even though it faced the challenges of working through the pandemic, the project was highly successful. “It allowed FCWA to identify ‘hidden victims’, namely older women who, in accessing their GP surgeries regularly, then disclosed abuse and were able to access support. FCWA is confident that the IRIS programme will help to reach more individuals in need of help and identify further gaps to improve the overall response to domestic abuse.”
“FCWA is looking forward to the rollout of a highly successful IRIS project across Blackpool, leading to further funding for the project as it is clearly a model that works.” – Fylde Coast Women’s Aid team
The Wish Centre: “we expect that the GP surgeries will see the benefits of being an IRIS practice for their patients and themselves”
In the last year, the Wish Centre received a total of 3,376 referrals from victims and survivors of Domestic Abuse. “Our hope is that by taking services to the heart of communities, such as GP surgeries, it will let those needing support know that there is help readily available. Often domestic abuse services are sought out at crisis point, but by making services more visible and accessible it gives a greater opportunity for early intervention leading to reduced harm and lowered risk”, says their team.
“We expect that the programme will be rolled out smoothly and quickly, that the GP surgeries will see the benefits of being an IRIS practice for their patients and themselves, that awareness of the prevalence of DA in the area becomes widely known and, ultimately, that support is available for those impacted.” – The Wish Centre team
To bring IRIS to your area, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.