St Vincent's Emergency Dept Commences Domestic Violence Screening

St Vincent's Emergency Dept Commences Domestic Violence Screening

11 Nov 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect our community beyond the transition of the virus itself, with a massive increase in mental health issues and alcohol & drug use, so too have the incidents of domestic and family violence increased over the past few months. 

Earlier this year, routine data collection reported a sharp increase in referrals to St Vincent’s Domestic Violence Service. This gave rise to a new project in the ED to introduce enhanced screening and identification of victims of domestic violence

Once the project commenced, it was found that in July of 2020, there was a 377% increase in domestic and family violence cases from the same period year prior. And that 1 in 10 patients screened reported current or previous experiences of an abusive intimate relationship.

While these statistics are alarming and likely somewhat elevated due to better screening processes, it highlighted an opportunity to reach these vulnerable patients who might otherwise fall through the cracks. It is well documented that victims are less likely to offer details of abuse unless they are directly asked, and with all Doctors, Registered Nurses and Allied Health staff based in the Emergency Department now trained to better identify circumstances of domestic violence, the whole response team including social work and the domestic violence service are in the best position to provide interventional strategies, psychosocial support as well as physical and mental wellbeing. 

Stephen Freeman, ED and ICU Social Worker was instrumental in getting this project off the ground. “It has been a great experience to work with the team of Doctors, Nurses, Allied Health Clinicians and the Aboriginal Health Unit within the Emergency Department to respond to our patients’ experiences of Domestic Violence.  The department has come together to embrace this project in the midst of a pandemic, and it has been reassuring to see we can do something to reduce the impact of Domestic and Family Violence within the community through this project and the excellent follow-up and support provided by the St Vincent’s Domestic and Family Violence Service.  They continue to assist patients and their children to understand the full impacts of their experience of living with control and terror, and help them to access safety and navigate the challenges of engaging with Police, the courts and the multitude of community services and supports”.

Screening is now a part of the normal clinical assessment & review for all patients aged over 16 years presenting to the Emergency Department irrespective of age, gender identity and triage category. 
This is an exemplar of how this challenging year has changed our practices for the better, the benefits of which will long outlive the pandemic. 


We’d like to acknowledge St Vincent’s staff who have a lived experience of Domestic and Family Violence.  Please practice safely and continue to support your colleagues in challenging times.  If this has raised any concerns for yourself further counselling or support is available via:

  • SVH Domestic & Family Violence Service – confidential self-referral service for all staff members. Phone 0417 210 434
  • SVH Employee Assistance Program Counselling – 1800 818 728 (24hrs/7 days a week)
  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 7377328)
  • NSW Domestic Violence Line (1800 65 64 63) 


Stephen Freeman, Social Worker

Stephen Freeman

Image courtesy of Kate Geraghty.