“You also become the port of call for the other health issues that arise [due to family violence] … just like sexual abuse, victims of domestic and family violence will often have worse chronic disease outcomes because of their self-neglect.”
President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Karen Price, said it is vital that general practice does everything possible to help women and children who are experiencing family violence.
“Some women experiencing family violence may meet the criteria for a General Practice Mental Health Treatment Plan; however, it is important to remember that some may not. Helping people experiencing family violence requires comprehensive and protective safe care,” she said.
“We are supportive of Medicare patient rebates that assist in the development of ‘family health treatment plans’ as part of a national approach to healthcare delivery for women and children experiencing family violence. These will help patients have adequate time with and support from their specialist GP.”
In the year to December 31, 2020, family violence incidents in Victoria rose by 9.4 per cent from 84,543 to 92,521.
Police are called to such incidents every six minutes and an average of 253 incidents are attended each day.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the government would continue to review suggestions for the Medicare Benefits Schedule and respond accordingly but the MBS Review Taskforce concluded against the efficacy and appropriateness of including a family violence item on grounds it could identify victim-survivors. Professor Hegarty said arrangements could be made to prevent this happening.
On Saturday, federal Social Services Minister, Anne Ruston, said statistics showing one Australian woman a week is killed by an intimate partner were “quite horrifying” and the government would commit hundreds of millions of dollars to “much more ambitious” programs in the next National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.
Family violence victim-survivor Maggie, who is an adviser to the Safer Families Centre of Research Excellence, said GP support for those experiencing family violence was integral. “They are often your first port of call and someone you feel very comfortable with … they’re at the forefront because you trust them.
“It is about sitting and listening to us and helping us navigate a path that’s safe for us and our children and for them to walk along the journey with you.”
Being able to get ongoing support from the same GP meant patients were not compelled to tell their story repeatedly to strangers and for the doctor to be able to check in regularly.
“The doctor could be the only person that knows what’s going on,” she said.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
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Wendy Tuohy is a Sunday Age senior writer.