Pregnant to be questioned on home violence

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Pregnant women are to be routinely asked by doctors and midwives if they have been beaten up by their partners in a new drive to tackle domestic violence. The move follows evidence that women are more vulnerable to domestic violence during pregnancy.

Pregnant women are to be routinely asked by doctors and midwives if they have been beaten up by their partners in a new drive to tackle domestic violence. The move follows evidence that women are more vulnerable to domestic violence during pregnancy.

Melanie Johnson, the Public Health minister, will announce plans today for questions to be put to women during their first NHS ante-natal visits.

The initiative means that health service professionals will play a vital role in rooting out hidden domestic violence. At NHS appointments during the early stages of pregnancy, such as for foetal scans, they will inquire whether women are being abused. Sufferers will be referred to appropriate support and counselling services or the police if it emerges that they need protection or want charges to be pressed.

Ministers want to use the NHS as a "first point of contact" for tackling domestic violence not only because of the dangers to women but also to unborn children. One woman in four experiences domestic violence in her life and it is associated with rises in the rates of miscarriage, foetal death and injury, low birth weight and prematurity.

The questions about violence are expected to be asked in tandem with inquiries about diet, general well-being and smoking.

"Health service professionals play a crucial role in providing access to support mechanisms for women who are being abused," said a Department of Health source. "Using this infrastructure it is hoped women can be targeted at this early stage and abuse can be stopped before it escalates.

"With routine questions when women go for pre-natal appointments, health professionals will be able to establish whether women are at risk or have experienced domestic violence during their pregnancy."

Ms Johnson will announce the establishment of an advisory group to draw up the questions to be asked and the advice that can be given.

Doctors and nurses have already been given advice on how to deal with people who admit to being victims of domestic violence. But this is the first time that they will be told to solicit information from pregnant women or people not presenting obvious signs of abuse.

The initiative follows a Department of Health pilot scheme in Bristol that is said to have provided "strong evidence" that routine inquiries can expose domestic violence and lead to it being tackled effectively.

The move may be resisted by some doctors who may regard the list of questions as intrusive. Some midwives may also object to inquiring into the personal lives of clients or soliciting information which could be used in a court of law.

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