Family violence will be the focus as medical professionals from around Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand gather at New South Wales Parliament House for a joint symposium.

The symposium is being hosted by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM). It will examine the health system’s response to family violence and feature a range of speakers from across the medical profession, as well as politicians and public policy experts.

Symposium co-convenor Associate Professor Payal Mukherjee said that her priority for the event was to generate a much better understanding of the complexities surrounding family violence, including the critical role that surgeons and other medical professionals play in both the treatment and the prevention of it.

“The most common cause of assault related hospital admissions, particularly affecting women is due to family violence. Family violence is about 6500 admissions a year in Australia, and interestingly of the admissions the most common cause is head injuries. The other thing is also that if there has been one hospital stay due to family violence, the likelihood that there will be numerous hospital stays is higher,” Associate Professor Mukherjee said.

“The perception amongst surgeons in general is that family violence is a social issue not a medical issue, but as clinicians we are trained to not just treat the trauma but to set in place ways to mitigate future harm of trauma. Trauma prevention needs to be a focus rather than just trauma treatment.

“If we put the same lens on family violence, it is absolutely front and centre for surgeons to be educated about family violence. Just looking at those statistics if you have had a victim of family admitted to hospital and you are treating them, not understanding the mitigating strategies for future admissions, this basically means that you have not done your job very well as a surgeon.

RACS President, Dr Sally Langley, will also be attending symposium. She said the symposium provided an important opportunity for collaboration and taking a long term educational and advocacy approach to the prevention of family violence.

“I am impressed by the commitment right from the top from numerous arms of the profession in making this event possible. It is important that we make sure that these discussions filter through to our workforce and we are accountable for the outcomes that we set.

“I would also like to acknowledge and thank the Honourable Natalie Ward, Minister for Metropolitan Roads, and Minister for Women's Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence; and Joe McGirr, Independent Member for Wagga Wagga, who are both speaking at the symposium.

“I am hopeful in the long term that through initiatives such as the symposium and other similar collaborations, that we are able to make addressing family violence core to what we do.”

ACEM President Dr Clare Skinner said: “Emergency departments are often the first point of call for people who seek care due to abuse and neglect. We welcome this collaborative initiative which aims to improve the skills and confidence of emergency department clinicians in recognising and responding to family violence.”


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