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Background: The lockdown periods to curb COVID-19 transmission have made it harder for survivors of domestic violence and abuse (DVA) to disclose abuse and access support services. Our study describes the impact of the first COVID-19 wave and the associated national lockdown in England and Wales on the referrals from general practice to the Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) DVA programme. We compare this to the change in referrals in the same months in the previous year, during the school holidays in the 3 years preceding the pandemic and the period just after the first COVID-19 wave. School holiday periods were chosen as a comparator, since families, including the perpetrator, are together, affecting access to services. Methods: We used anonymised data on daily referrals received by the IRIS DVA service in 33 areas from general practices over the period April 2017–September 2020. Interrupted-time series and non-linear regression were used to quantify the impact of the first national lockdown in March–June 2020 comparing analogous months the year before, and the impact of school holidays (01/04/2017–30/09/2020) on number of referrals, reporting Incidence Rate Ratio (IRR), 95% confidence intervals and p-values. Results: The first national lockdown in 2020 led to reduced number of referrals to DVA services (27%, 95%CI = (21,34%)) compared to the period before and after, and 19% fewer referrals compared to the same period in the year before. A reduction in the number of referrals was also evident during the school holidays with the highest reduction in referrals during the winter 2019 pre-pandemic school holiday (44%, 95%CI = (32,54%)) followed by the effect from the summer of 2020 school holidays (20%, 95%CI = (10,30%)). There was also a smaller reduction (13–15%) in referrals during the longer summer holidays 2017–2019; and some reduction (5–16%) during the shorter spring holidays 2017–2019. Conclusions: We show that the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 led to decline in referrals to DVA services. Our findings suggest an association between decline in referrals to DVA services for women experiencing DVA and prolonged periods of systemic closure proxied here by both the first COVID-19 national lockdown or school holidays. This highlights the need for future planning to provide adequate access and support for people experiencing DVA during future national lockdowns and during the school holidays.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Public Health

Publication Date