The number of women and girls being treated in English hospitals after suffering physical, mental or sexual abuse has increased by almost a third in five years, analysis of NHS statistics shows.
Campaign group End Violence Against Women Coalition said the figures are evidence doctors, nurses and paramedics are seeing victims of domestic violence routinely, and called for the health service to ensure it misses no opportunity to intervene in cases of abuse.
NHS admissions data shows hospitals in England treated 1,012 female assault victims in 2019-20, where the cause of admission was a form of maltreatment which includes physical or sexual abuse, torture or mental cruelty.
That was an increase of 31% compared with 2015-16, when 774 cases were recorded.
We need to know whether women are guaranteed to get the best support, advice and onward referral if it is at all suspected that they're in hospital because of domestic or sexual abuseSarah Green, End Violence Against Women Coalition
It was the second most common reason that female assault victims found themselves in hospital last year, after assault by bodily force, with such admissions more than twice as prevalent than among men and boys.
Just 470 cases involving male patients were recorded.
Rape or sexual assault of female victims also increased by 89% since 2015-16, rising from 116 to 219.
The figures count each period a patient spends under one consultant’s care, so someone could be captured more than once after being admitted.
Only the primary cause of a patient’s injury is recorded, and a victim could fall under another category if their sexual or physical abuse was a secondary diagnosis.
Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said NHS staff who are unaware of the signs of domestic abuse often miss opportunities to intervene and direct victims to support services, or to pass relevant information to GPs.
The NHS is in a unique position to help victims whose contact with the outside world is restricted by a violent partner, or who may not wish to become involved with the police or the criminal justice systemLouisa Rolfe, NPCC lead for domestic abuse
She said: “The figures mean that health workers are likely to have a lot of information about both victims and offenders and ongoing needs and risks – information which the police perhaps do not have.
“We need to know whether women are guaranteed to get the best support, advice and onward referral if it is at all suspected that they’re in hospital because of domestic or sexual abuse.”
An NHS England spokesman said staff are offered training to help them advise and support victims, and that trusts can provide access to an independent domestic abuse adviser, with work under way to expand the availability of these services.
But Ms Green said the use of such advisers should be standard practice in hospitals, rather than being left to staff to decide.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said police response to domestic abuse is only part of the answer, and that a proportion of cases are reported to them by GPs, A&E staff and other health workers.
Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, NPCC lead for domestic abuse, said: “Healthcare professionals play a vital role in ensuring that victims receive timely care and support, whether from the NHS, police or a third sector service.
“Arrests and prosecutions may provide a temporary respite for victims but a public health response is vital to keep people safe and provide a lasting solution.
“The NHS is in a unique position to help victims whose contact with the outside world is restricted by a violent partner, or who may not wish to become involved with the police or the criminal justice system.”