IRIS launches in Swale this week

Domestic abuse is a health issue. Women who have experienced domestic abuse are:

  • 2.3 times more likely to have issues with memory and concentration
  • 87% more likely to complain of pain or discomfort
  • 73% more likely to take pain medication
  • 86% more likely to take medication for sleep
  • 66% more likely to have been admitted to hospital for reasons other than labour

This is why we are so proud and excited to announce that we are launching IRIS in Swale this week – which is the first initiative of its kind in Kent – to work with health professionals to better identify domestic abuse cases and support victims in our community.

Our new Advocate Educator, Ruth, who has been a support worker at SATEDA for 3 years, tells us a little more about how it all works.

What’s the difference between your support work and this new IRIS advocate educator role?

This is going to be a lot more working with professionals, which I am used to because we already do a lot of inter-agency working. It’s in the name – there will be a lot of educating, from admin staff through to nurses and GPs. I think it will be rewarding for those who want to work with us and are really keen to enhance their understanding of domestic abuse and help their patients. But I can see there being challenges with some of the health professionals and GPs who won’t want to change how they do things. We know that the NHS is under pressure particularly right now and I wonder if some of them will be like “we don’t have the time or energy to be training people as a priority.”

But domestic abuse is costing the NHS huge amounts and the NHS doesn’t have huge amounts, as we know. Investing in the 3 days of training, is a big chunk of time for them in the short term but it would save them huge amounts long term.

How do the referrals work?

When GPs are making their assessments of a patient and they log her symptoms into the system, they will get an alert saying “have you considered domestic abuse?.” And she might not mention domestic abuse or a partner because she herself might not be aware of it, especially if it’s coercive control, but the software will be able to pick on the combinations that could reveal the patient is experiencing abuse, like weight loss, difficulty sleeping, panic attacks, STIs, etc.

And then there is going to be a very easy referral process. If the GP talks to their patient and the patient wants to be referred, they’ve then got to find somewhere, but now with IRIS, if they have identified domestic abuse and the patient wants to access specialist support, she then gets referred straight to me. In a non-Covid world I would be meeting her at the surgery if that’s what she wanted but some of it will have to be virtual still. And then it will be doing that initial support work and putting her through to our support work colleagues.

We’ve wanted this for ages and Swale is the first place in Kent to get it, which is inspiring because if we do well, we could pave the way for other areas to do this. Some areas have been doing this for several years now and it is working. It’s not rocket science. A lot of people with mental health issues linked to domestic abuse are going to their GPs.

This is going to allow us to have a more joined up, more seamless referral process. Simplifying things for the surgeries and for us, which is obviously for the benefit of the patients because when you’re in that situation, the last thing you want is to reach out for help and then the surgeries not knowing what to do, which is going to add to your anxiety. Whereas if the response is “ok, today I can refer you through so you can speak to an advocate educator and tomorrow they can help you with a safety plan. It’s just going to be so much smoother isn’t it.