Awareness of domestic violence in the UK is at an all-time high following the story of Helen Titchener in the BBC Radio 4 soap ‘The Archers’. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and Institute of Health Visiting (iHV) are highlighting the need for domestic violence and abuse (DVA) to be treated as a public health priority. Their call comes as a survey of 397 health visitors by the iHV reveals that about two in five (42%) think services to support families affected by DVA in their area have got worse in the past two years, with less than a third (32%) saying they were no worse.

There are more than 11,000 health visitors in England. Health Visitors are specialist community public health nurses who work closely with families with children under five, particularly from vulnerable or deprived groups, to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent illness. The iHV survey of health visitors in England also found that almost half (47%) of health visitors surveyed believed a challenged relationship between parents is impacting on their children in more than one in five (20%) of the families they work with. Almost two thirds (62%) of those surveyed said the families they work with affected by DVA are not empowered to do anything about their situation.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said:“Domestic violence and abuse often underpins a wide range of other health and wellbeing issues, especially mental health problems, not just for partners but also for children in affected families. Tackling DVA and its effects should therefore be a major public health priority at both a local and national level. Domestic abuse extends beyond physical violence to controlling and manipulative behaviour, and is far more common than is generally acknowledged – with the recent Archers storyline having raised awareness of the plight of real life Helens, this is a good time to be considering how both the core and wider public health workforce can do their bit to tackle the issue.”

Dr Cheryll Adams CBE, Executive Director of the Institute of Health Visiting, said: “It is of no surprise to us that health visitors see so much domestic abuse in families. Tolerance of this will reduce if it becomes a much more conspicuous public issue, as has happened with the Archers storyline. Domestic violence and abuse impacts not only on the recipient but on her/his ability to parent, so hence on children, which will ultimately have a societal impact, so addressing the scale of this must be seen as a public health priority.”