Knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of Emergency Care Practitioners to victims of domestic violence in the Western Cape.
PURPOSE. Domestic violence has a significant prevalence in the world, and certainly in South Africa, yet Emergency Care Practitioner (ECP) training and practice does not have any particular focus on domestic violence intervention. The absence of any clear response protocol to domestic violence in a Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) regulated profession, suggests the reliance on health practitioner discretion in this regard. This is problematic as the profession is male dominated and focused on tertiary levels of care. ECP's may be positioned to screen for abuse early, yet there is no evidence of success or failure in this endeavour. This study aimed to ascertain what the prevailing ECP knowledge, attitudes and beliefs around domestic violence in the Western Cape are, so that any factors preventing or nurturing early identification and appropriate treatment of domestic violence may be mitigated or supported respectively. METHODS. Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) registered ECP's in the Provincial Government- Western Cape (PGWC)- Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Metropole region voluntarily completed a questionnaire. MAJOR RESULTS. Only 49% of respondents could correctly define domestic violence. ECP qualification was associated with domestic violence definition in that Basic ECP's were more likely to incorrectly define domestic violence than the advanced ECP's. Eighty-one percent of respondents recognized less than thirty domestic violence calls in the preceding six months. The majority of ECP's (89%) experienced no special handling of domestic violence victims. No significant association could be found (Chi-Square: p = 0.2298) between qualification and knowledge of domestic violence laws. An ECP's qualification is no predictor of his/her legal knowledge about abuse. Qualification could also not be positively associated with the referral of victims, although the majority of practitioners of all qualifications (78%), had only sometimes referred victims or not at all. The majority of respondents expressed inadequate assessment and management of domestic violence patients. The majority also indicated that their ECP training was inadequate in preparing them for domestic violence intervention. CONCLUSIONS DRAWN. The attitudes and beliefs of Emergency Care Practitioners elicited from this study suggest a poor level of understanding of the extent and nature of domestic violence. There is a probable low detection rate amongst the majority of ECP's. There exists harbouring of myths that may confound the implementation of a pre-hospital protocol for domestic violence management. There is an inadequacy of current ECP practice with respect to domestic violence crisis intervention with regards screening, management and referral. The EMS response to domestic violence should be congruent with an appropriate health sector response and should include universal screening (asking about domestic violence routinely); comprehensive physical and psychological care for those patients who disclose abuse; a safety assessment and safety plan; the documentation of past and present incidents of abuse; the provision of information about patients rights and the domestic violence act; and referral to appropriate resources. The ECP curriculum should emphasise the particular nature and treatment of domestic violence. The study supports the need for the introduction of a comprehensive ECP protocol, in training and in practice. This information should prove useful to all who attempt to design educational programmes and clinical strategies to address this public health issue.