All women to be questioned about abuse when at hospital

By Simon Collins

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All women entering New Zealand public hospitals will be questioned about whether they or their children have been victims of family violence - even if they are merely seeking treatment for an ingrown toenail.

Whilst in hospital women will be asked these three questions to see if she may have been abused:
* Has anybody hurt or threatened you?
* Have you ever felt controlled or always criticised?
* Have you been asked to do anything sexual that you didn't wat to do?

Health Minister Pete Hodgson and other ministers are expected to announce the radical move tomorrow in an attempt to clamp down on the country's appalling record of child abuse and other domestic violence.

It comes after a day of mounting anger over the latest two youngsters to be put in hospital by their families, and frustration over the lack of solutions.

Rotorua 3-year-old Nia Glassie remained in Starship hospital's high dependence unit last night.

It is understood she has been taken off a ventilator and is in a serious but stable condition.

A 12-week-old boy, also from Rotorua, remains in a stable condition at the same hospital with head injuries.

Four of Nia's relatives appeared in a packed court yesterday amid angry protests outside.

Politicians, meanwhile, united in calls for an end to violence towards children.

Tomorrow's announcement by the Government was planned before details of Nia's injuries emerged.

But the questions are aimed at catching child abuse as well as partner violence at an early stage.

Under the project - which has been piloted at National Women's Hospital - women are asked three questions about whether they have been hurt or threatened, whether they have felt "controlled or always criticised", and whether they have been asked to do anything sexual which they didn't want to do.

A woman who answers "yes" to any of the first three questions is then asked a series of further questions including whether she has children at home and whether she is pregnant.

Auckland District Health Board family violence co-ordinator Kathy Lowe said nurses were required to ask the first three questions of every woman aged 16 to 65 and every caregiver of children, regardless of what ailment brought them to hospital.

"That's one of the hard things. If someone comes in with an ingrown toenail it's just as relevant to ask them those questions," she said.

"They are not going to tell you unless you show them you are not scared of them [family violence issues]. We need to bring them out into the open."

The questions had already picked up several cases of child abuse since they were introduced in National Women's and community child health last year.

Nurses at Starship are now being trained to ask the same questions.

Anyone who is found to be at risk after answering the full set of questions is either referred to health board social workers or given contact details for the support agency Preventing Violence in the Home.

Advocate Jill Proudfoot said the agency had noticed a surge in self-referrals since the trial started.

Ministry of Health guidelines have also encouraged general practitioners to ask patients about child abuse whenever they suspected it.

The chairman of the Medical Association's General Practitioner Council, Dr Mark Peterson, said GPs could probably do better in terms of screening for family violence, but often knew the family situations well anyway.

Meanwhile, an $11 million advertising campaign aimed at changing attitudes and behaviour on family violence, which was to have been launched last Sunday, has been deferred until September.

Ministry spokeswoman Bronwyn Saunders said yesterday the launch date had been "a pretty moveable feast".

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