NICE is calling for frontline staff in all social and healthcare services to be trained to recognise the indicators of domestic violence and abuse and ask relevant questions to help people disclose such abuse.
These recommendations are included in new guidance aimed at reducing domestic violence. It outlines how health services, social care and the organisations they work with can respond effectively to abuse victims.
Domestic violence and abuse includes physical abuse, threats, emotional abuse, sexual assault or stalking. Each year at least 1.2 million women and 784,000 men are victims of abuse in England and Wales, with one in three women and nearly one in five men experiencing it at some point in their lives. These figures are likely to be an underestimate as many cases go unreported.
Domestic violence costs the country an estimated £15 billion a year, of which £9.9 billion is in health and social care costs.
Among recommendations in the new NICE guidance is the provision of clearly displayed information in waiting areas and other suitable places about the support on offer for those affected by domestic violence – including contact details of relevant local and national helplines. Any enquiries made by frontline staff in regard to potential violence or abuse should be done so in private in a kind, sensitive manner and on a one-to-one basis in an environment where the person feels safe.
The guidance also calls for specific training for health and social care professionals in how to respond to domestic violence and abuse. Victim safety should be prioritised and regularly assessed to determine what type of service someone needs - immediately and in the longer term.
Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE said: "Domestic violence and abuse are far more common than people think. It can affect anyone - particularly women and children, but also men, regardless of age, geographical location, income, relationship type, family set-up or ethnic origin.
"This new guidance recommends that health and social care professionals should receive training so that they can recognise the signs of domestic violence and abuse, and ensure that those affected are aware of the help and support available to them."
Dr Adrian Boyle, consultant emergency physician at Addenbrookes Hospital and guidance developer, added: "In emergency departments we see a lot of patients who are experiencing domestic violence, including those who don't feel able to tell us what is happening to them. What happens next is variable - there are places which do excellent work identifying and responding to these individuals, and have specialist services they can refer to, but equally there are places with no extra support for those who come forward.
"At the moment there is no requirement for staff to be trained, but what this new guidance recommends is that all staff should be trained to respond well to patients who chose to confide what is happening to them. I hope that women and men who are living with domestic violence will be able to go to emergency departments and feel confident and safe in telling their nurse or doctor what is happening."