In the final of our 16 blogs for 16 days, IRISi Comms and Events Manager Allie Bailey talks about her role in putting the Look Beyond project together, why it’s so important personally and professionally and the lasting legacy that Pathfinder and IRISi hope it will leave.
I joined IRISi back in April 2019 as Comms and Events manager, having not worked in the sector before. The first few weeks of the job were spent raking through DVA reports, statistics and survivor stories. Although I had an idea of the scale of DVA in the UK, I had no idea that it was not recognised as a health issue and was quite frankly shocked that it was going unrecognised and unreferred in thousands of health settings around the country. I simply couldn’t understand how someone could go to the doctor and be sent away without questions being asked about repeated visits, injuries or mental health issues. From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed that GPs and health care workers were just under too much pressure time wise and target wise to have the time to deal with this serious underlying issue.
The more that I read and learned, the more angry I became.
We have worked with a number of survivors first-hand on various projects, and I have met them and heard their stories. From women trapped in abusive relationships for 22 years to women who have been to see GPs with human bites on their fingers and not been asked any questions. The stories I heard shocked me. Why weren’t people asking questions and what could we do about it?
The work that IRISi do is incredible. The IRIS programme facilitates health care workers being trained to recognise and refer patients, and to understand that not only does the programme save lives, it also saves the NHS money and time. Its implementation means less frequent visits to surgeries and more direct help for patients. The worst thing about it is that the IRIS programme is a choice for commissioners and not mandatory practice. It has been proven to work and with 15,000 referrals and counting, I knew that we needed to make more noise about the work that IRISi and the other members of the Pathfinder Consortium have been doing. That is when I came up with the idea to present this work under the banner Look Beyond.
Whether a patient is showing physical injuries, signs of mental illness, depression, anxiety, or issues around substance use, it takes someone to look beyond what is presented, and ask why this person has repeatedly visited their GP. It extends beyond just general practice, mental health and acute health services. Although it should seem obvious, the work in the field of dentistry surprised me and has proven to be vital. Reading reports about rural domestic abuse made me wonder if vets have a duty of care not just to the animals, but to their owners and carers. Who was there for the patients who couldn’t tell their doctor in close knit communities? DVA is a huge societal problem and everyone involved in healthcare should be looking for the signs, however well hidden.
The words “Look Beyond” should be a constant reminder to all health care workers to look a little deeper into the symptoms their patients present. It should become second nature. DVA does not discriminate by class, gender, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity. It is all around us, hidden in plain sight. We need to Look Beyond to see it.
Our campaign was built around 16 blogs to mark the 16 days of action, including and following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2019. Every day for 16 days we published a blog on our website and social media that covered a different topic, be that DVA in dentistry, the work of organisations like Gamecar, or the work IRISi and the Pathfinder consortium have been doing. We want these blogs to raise awareness of our work in the health care sector and remain as points of reference for anyone looking for information into this area.
These blogs were supported by the first Look Beyond event, a networking day in December in Bristol. We invited a number of speakers along to talk about the work they are doing and the work they would like to see done over the next few years to help get DVA recognised as a health issue in the UK. We were thrilled to welcome Nicole Jacobs, Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, Prof Paul Coulthard, Dean of Dentistry at Barts, Sarah Charters, Consultant Nurse, ED at Southampton Hospital, Michelle Sheridan and Claire Bennet from our IRIS Blackpool Site, Ruth Atkinson from AVA and Emma A, an IRIS service user and DVA survivor. Each speaker spoke passionately about the work that Pathfinder and IRISi have helped to implement and develop in their area, and of its importance. All of them spoke about the need to Look Beyond in order to identify and refer patients.
We welcomed over 60 guests from all over the country, many of them health care professionals working with IRIS or Pathfinder to meet each other, share best practice and listen to our speakers. We plan to make the Look Beyond Network Day an annual event.
Look Beyond is not a one-off campaign. 3rd December will be the day we all Look Beyond, a stand out day within the 16 days of action; the national day of health within the DVA sector.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person who has got in contact to help or written a blog or attended our network day. Each and every one of you has shown the passion and hard work that goes into working within the VAWG sector. We all have a duty to Look Beyond and I hope that the legacy of the last 16 days remains for many years to come.
We commissioned this piece of artwork to mark the legacy of Look beyond. It is available to buy now here. All profits go to the IRISi Survivor Engagement fund which allows us to work with survivors of DVA and get their voices heard.
Allie Bailey is Comms and Events Manager at IRISi.