Australia-first ED social work service helping domestic violence victims

With an Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF) grant, researchers are studying an Australian first 24/7 social work service at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) Emergency Department, which is helping domestic violence victims.

RBWH Emergency Medicine Specialist Dr Alex Markwell is leading the first study of its kind to explore the role this service has for victims of abuse, as well as the potential benefits to the hospital and overall patient care.

“We know care for victims of violence who present to ED in many hospitals can be delayed due to a number of reasons such as social workers not being on hand after hours but also victims being too frightened to raise their hand for help,” Dr Markwell said.

“RBWH ED Social Work service cared for more than 130 domestic violence patients last year but we know the number of patients affected by domestic violence is probably a lot higher. With the social work team working side by side with medical and nursing teams, they’re able to quickly identify those who are at risk and need urgent support.

“In almost 90 per cent of cases, social workers are able to refer domestic violence victims to further appropriate services so that they can receive on-going help once they leave hospital.

“Furthermore, the team has told us victims of violence are brought straight to the RBWH ED by emergency services including the QPS and QAS because they know they will be immediately connected with a social worker as well as receive medical care.”

EMF Chair, Dr Anthony Bell said the research project had the potential to benefit other Australian and New Zealand hospitals with large emergency departments.

“Hospital Emergency Departments in Australasia will be looking at the results of this research to see how they could benefit from running a similar 24/7 social work service,” said Dr Bell.

Queensland Health and Ambulance Services Minister Cameron Dick said the hospital’s Emergency Department was the only ED in the country providing a dedicated social work team around the clock.

“While many larger EDs have the ability to call in a social worker for victims of violence who present after hours or on weekends, RBWH has a team already on the ground to care for patients on arrival as well as connecting them to services such as Micah Projects and DV Connect,” Mr Dick said.

“EMF saw the value of this service and funded the year-long research project. There is a lot of support for this program and the need to continue and investigate expanding the service elsewhere in Australia.”

Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Shannon Fentiman said it was fantastic to see the RBWH Emergency Department thinking outside the box to help victims of domestic and family violence.

“This 24/7 social work service means no matter what time of day or night it is, victims of domestic violence will be able to get the help they need,” she said.

“Not only will they get medical help, but they will also be connected with services and support at the same time.”

CEO of Micah Projects Karyn Walsh said the results of the research confirm what the organisation already knew; the program of 24/7 social work support is working.

“Over the past five years, RBWH social work team has referred significant numbers of domestic violence victims to our service where we are able to connect with them before they leave hospital,” Ms Walsh said.

“From there we’re able to find alternative accommodation and provide ongoing emotional support to these patients. This program is just another important step in breaking the cycle of abuse and we are so thankful for this service as it allows us to intervene earlier and before the situation escalates.”

Mr Dick said this year marked 10 years of Queensland Health funding for EMF, with the Government providing $23 million over the past decade, including $2 million in this financial year alone.


  • RBWH is one of Queensland’s busiest adult Emergency Departments, with 78,000 patients presenting to the ED each year.
  • Queensland wide, there were 1377 domestic violence occurrences a week in 2014-15.
  • In 2016, the RBWH ED treated 132 patients who presented specifically as victims of domestic violence. This number is conservative with the Social Work team also working closely with maternity to care for domestic violence patients.
  • RBWH ED Social Work 24/7 Service has been operational for 5 years with current EMF funded research finalising the results of the study later this year.
  • In addition to domestic violence victims, the social work team also works closely with families and patients who are suffering from sexual assault, substance abuse and mental health issues as well as severe trauma and other life threatening conditions.
  • The EMF grant was awarded through its Queensland Research Program, which is funded by Queensland Health.
  • Across Metro North Hospital and Health Service, 200 staff have completed Domestic Family Violence training.


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