Hundreds of women are put in hospital after being abused by their spouse or partner every year in Britain, an investigation by NationalWorld can reveal.
Domestic violence experts say admission to hospital is a crucial moment for healthcare workers to step in with specialist support, warning that too often opportunities to intervene and tackle abuse are missed.
Previously unpublished figures obtained by NationalWorld from England’s NHS Digital, Public Health Scotland (PHS) and NHS Wales reveal 2,086 female patients were admitted to hospital after suffering sexual, physical or mental abuse at the hands of a partner between April 2015 and March 2020.
The figures refer to admissions where an external cause of injury has been recorded using the diagnosis code ‘other maltreatment,’ which includes sexual or physical abuse, torture or mental cruelty. It does not include rape or sexual assault by bodily force.
47% of cases involved a spouse or partner
Overall, 4,486 women and girls were admitted having suffered this maltreatment over the five-year period, with at least 47 per cent of cases at the hands of a spouse or partner.
The admissions figures include children, so the proportion of adult women hospitalised by a partner will be higher still.
Analysis of previously published NHS Digital data shows the number of female abuse patients outnumbers male patients more than two to one, with maltreatment the second most common external cause of women and girls being admitted compared to sixth most common for men and boys.
In England, there were 1,980 admissions following abuse by a partner, in Wales 66, and 40 in Scotland.
Charity Women’s Aid said NationalWorld’s research underlined the importance of health services working with expert domestic abuse services and ensuring staff are fully trained on the issue, as well as the need for sustainable funding to support their own network of “life-saving” services.
‘A hidden crime’
Sarah Davidge, research and evaluation manager at the charity, said: "We know how prevalent domestic abuse is in our society, so, sadly, we are not surprised to hear of the numbers of survivors who have been hospitalised due to abuse by a partner or spouse.
“Domestic abuse is largely a hidden crime and very few survivors report domestic abuse to the police. For many women, a visit to the hospital or the GP can be the only time they are alone and safe to disclose their experiences without risk from the abuser.
“All health professionals need to have specialist training on domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls, to ensure they respond safely and effectively.”
She added that Office for National Statistics figures for England and Wales in 2019 showed 57% of all female murder or manslaughter victims where a suspect was identified were killed by a current or ex-partner.
England’s admissions figures only capture the first external cause recorded by staff. That means an admission which is recorded under one serious injury such as strangulation or assault with a blunt object, with maltreatment a secondary cause, would not be included.
PHS also cautioned that the figures may be an under representation, as some victims may not disclose details of their abuse or staff may not record it in full in the patient notes.
Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, echoed Women’s Aid’s comments, adding admission into hospital can be a “crucial moment” for survivors to find help if specialist support is provided to them.
She said: “Healthcare professionals are often trusted in a way that others – such as police or social workers – are not, and may be more aware of issues than other statutory agencies.
“Both victims and perpetrators are more likely to interact with the healthcare system than people who are not affected by domestic abuse, and yet so often opportunities to identify abuse early and intervene are missed.”
Encouraging all health organisations to adopt the best practice on domestic violence seen in some exemplary NHS groups will be a key priority for her office, she added.