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Domestic abuse spans gender, age, sexual orientation and religion, and it affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.
This is a sentence that as doctors we accept. We are taught early on that any issue can affect anyone, and that there is no place for prejudice in medicine.
But when it comes to domestic abuse, how much do we really believe this? How often do we consider that our colleagues or friends may be suffering or even perpetrating it?
In 2018 we aimed to bring domestic abuse in the medical profession to the forefront of people’s minds. It seemed unreasonable, when the statistics tell us 25% of women experience a form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, that some of those women wouldn’t be doctors. We were further concerned about evidence that nurses were more at risk of abuse than the general population due to their personality and caring nature. We believed this risk extended to doctors and that it was a problem that remained truly hidden within the bounds of the medical profession.
The response we received from delegates of both the junior doctors conference and annual representative meeting was phenomenal, and I cannot count the number of personal accounts of doctors experiences of domestic abuse I was – and continue to be – approached with. It’s an emerging evidence base that allows us to formalise the problem and ensure the correct support is available for doctors in their most desperate time of need.
But what makes doctors different? Why will they benefit from specialised support rather than the services already available? Why should this be a trade union and workplace issue rather than a social one? It comes down to those attitudes and beliefs about the type of person others believe this happens to, the impact it may have on how others perceive your competence, and most of all the fear of not being believed.
The doctor who was told during legal proceedings that it couldn’t have happened because as a doctor she was too intelligent to put up with that behaviour and stay in that relationship.
The doctor who was too embarrassed to seek support from her local women’s aid service because she regularly referred patients to them in a professional capacity.
The doctor who was told she may not be stable enough to look after patients if she could not look after herself.
The doctor who was referred to a ‘doctors in difficulty’ investigation panel after continually needing to call in sick on Mondays after a weekend of abuse.
The doctor who regularly missed night shifts because she was too afraid to leave her children at home with her partner.
The doctor who couldn’t access financial support due to her earnings, despite having to live on an allowance provided to her by her partner
The doctor who had letters sent to her employer with proposed evidence she was a danger to patients.
The doctor who had to remain in the same small community as her abuser, as she was unable to gain an emergency inter-deanery transfer for training.
The doctor who was too afraid to leave as she was continually threatened with false allegations being reported to the GMC if she did.
These are only some of the issues and accounts that have been given to me, and the consequences of each are devastating both personally and professionally. Doctors are scared, not just for themselves but for their careers. It is imperative that we recognise this problem does exist, and as a trade union, we ensure the correct support is available to allow those suffering to escape safely.
This starts by ensuring there is a named contact and policy within the workplace that can be accessed easily and discreetly. It is shocking that one in three NHS trusts do not have a policy in place to enable them to do this, and that some policies have more guidance in them about managing perpetrators than supporting victims.
Most of all, the medical community must realise that however well we’re taught that there’s no place for prejudice in medicine and to never judge our patients, many of us continue to do so to our colleagues, and there is certainly no place for that.
Mairi Reid is a member of the junior doctors committee
You have asked that we should not judge patients however, when an imported doctor is asked by an ill and frightened indigenous English patient
to see someone local, there is the risk that that patient could be refused treatment?
The NHS needs to reach some balance somewhere,
For Doctors :Medicine has achieved 50% women on the register
50%ethnic minorities on the register
Friday free time have been handed over for afternoon prayer, some have no work obligations for prayers again on saturday.
Skill mix is added in to make doctors jobs easier.
A few get disability adjustments of reduced hours and no on call
PFI finds new equipment and some doctors get higher salaries and pension breaks.
For Politicians: something to lobby on which could include getting more voters in under what clause? immigration? training? what else?
For patients: there are cancelled procedures, variable waiting times and quality of care and when some of the vulnerable patients ask, please I feel "roughed up" or " I'm afraid", can i see someone local/" like me?" , a health professional brands them as racist?discriminatory?
Is there not actual diversity in the workplace now that patients can see a representative from every minority group in the pathway through the NHS? There should never be- no access to treatment because they asked a question or too afraid to ask for specific help?
That's the basis of British Constitution, anybody could ask a reasonable question? How come so much for the doctors and AHPs and where are the pluses for the patients ?
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Thank you for raising such a sensitive issue.There are plenty of people who are silently suffering with Domestic abuse. There is an immmenmse need to create awareness about it. Keep up the good work for noble cause :-)
Although the first line was about spanning gender, all the examples were of women being abused by men. This is true for the majority, but I just wanted to highlight that men can also be the victims, not just the perpetrators.
Thank you for raising this issue. As a consultant leaving an abusive relationship with another doctor your statements ring true.
It is hard to approach traditional support agencies or GPs when these people are also your professional colleagues.
There is an assumption that doctors are 'too bright' to fall into this trap, and the abusive ex partner uses this to undermine the abused person's statement of the relationship.
My ex partner threatened to report me to the GMC and my employers as unfit to work as a means to undermine my financial security. This meant I had to disclose the situation to my managers and colleagues at work who were, thankfully, very supportive.
Thank you for raising such an important issue