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Researchers to explore the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on domestic abuse referrals in primary care

Press release issued: 25 February 2021

A new study, led by researchers at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care in collaboration with colleagues in Queen Mary University of London, UCL, University of Oxford and IRISi will explore whether and how GP referrals to domestic abuse services have changed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The PRECODE study, which has received over £260,000 of funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will measure differences in domestic abuse referrals during and after the lockdown in England and Wales compared to the year before.

To provide a detailed picture of impact, the analysis will be combined with data from interviews with general practice teams and IRIS advocate educators, who deliver training to those teams and receive referrals of patients experiencing domestic abuse.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, instances of domestic abuse in the UK and globally have risen, as people have found themselves trapped at home with an abusive partner, spouse or other adult. At the same time, GPs have switched from face to face consultations to phone, digital and video – so-called ‘remote’ consultations, potentially increasing risk to women reporting violence.

Researchers will look at whether and how GPs have managed to ask safely about abuse, offer support and make referrals when consulting with patients remotely by telephone, video or online. They will also examine how GPs have adapted to online training about domestic violence and abuse.

Dr Eszter Szilassy, co-lead of the study, said: “With the rapid shift to remote consultations during the pandemic, we want to find out what the impact has been on GP domestic abuse referrals. This is important not only because there has been an increase in domestic abuse since the start of the pandemic but also because it is likely that remote consultations will become more common, even after lockdown eases.”

Professor Gene Feder, co-lead of the study, said: “Over the past decade many GPs, in line with national policy, have been trained in how to ask and respond to patients who may be experiencing domestic abuse, providing general support and a crucial link to expert support from local domestic abuse agencies. The shift to remote consultations makes safe disclosure of abuse more difficult. This study will help GPs continue to have a vital role in supporting survivors of domestic abuse at a time when they are most needed.”

Medina Johnson, Chief Executive of IRISi, a social enterprise established to promote and improve the healthcare response to domestic abuse, and whose flagship intervention is the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) programme, said: “We are delighted to be the quantitative data provider for PRECODE and to support in brokering the relationships and sampling for the qualitative research. We hope this study will help us to understand how to refine and adapt our programme even more to help general practice teams better support their patients affected by domestic abuse. ”

The results of the study (PRECODE: Primary care response to domestic violence and abuse in the COVID-19 pandemic) are expected at the end of the year.

Further information

About the Centre for Academic Primary Care
The Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC) at the University of Bristol is a leading centre for primary care research in the UK, one of nine forming the NIHR School for Primary Care Research. It sits within Bristol Medical School, an internationally recognised centre of excellence for population health research and teaching. Follow us on Twitter: @capcbristol.

About IRISi
For more information about IRISi, visit or contact

About the National Institute for Health Research
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

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