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104 deaths a year: when will it stop?

In February 2012, after a day of heavy drinking and argument, he dialled 999 and said ‘I need an ambulance, I’ve just stabbed my girlfriend’.

I know a lot of nursing staff, in fact I’ve been to Uganda with a dozen nurses and medical staff to help a charity provide healthcare to a number of villages outside Kampala.

So although I know nurses are kind, caring and amazing – I know they can be scary too. And yet on 7 November 2017 I stood in front of 200 nurses to speak to them about domestic violence.

At the Nursing in Practice Conference at the NEC Birmingham I gave the keynote speech on the subject.

Specifically, I was telling Sarah Gosling’s story. Sarah was brought up in Buckinghamshire before moving in her early 20s to Norfolk with her husband. By the early 2000s they had two children and ran a pub as well as a car repairs business.

In a late-night move in 2010, Sarah left her family and went to live in the North East with her partner Ian Hope – riding through the night on his motorbike.

They moved in together and were happy – both working and setting up home together.

After a few months, arguments started and during one of these altercations, Ian hit Sarah with a torch. The police were called.

Despite support from a multi-agency team and Women’s Aid, Sarah decided to discharge herself from their support during late 2011.

Ian and Sarah continued to fight, his attacks became more frequent and following a Christmas Day where he hit her over the head with a wine bottle, she was hospitalised in January 2012 when Ian split her head open with a rolling pin.

On 14 February after more violent incidents, Ian was charged with common assault and they were ordered to live separately – which they managed for two or three nights – and Ian started anger management classes on 22 February.

A few days later, after a day of heavy drinking and argument, Ian dialled 999 and said ‘I need an ambulance, I’ve just stabbed my girlfriend’.

At 8.30pm on 25 February 2012 Sarah Gosling was pronounced dead.

Sarah Gosling was my sister.

In my talk at the NEC for NIP I shared some statistics:

  • Two women a week are killed by their current or ex-partners.
  • One in four women or girls experiences domestic abuse directly.
  • 750,000 children see domestic abuse or are in the next room when it occurs in the UK annually.
  • 29% of all violent crime in London annually is domestic abuse.
  • Nurses are three times more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than average citizens.

As well as pondering why that these deaths are largely unreported in the national news, I reflected on what the nursing profession can do to help women in danger through domestic abuse.

As a frequent ‘first port of call’ for women experiencing domestic abuse, nurses are a key profession in highlighting and possibly signposting women who are being abused in their own homes.

The RCN’s five stage process for supporting women who are (or nurses suspect are) suffering domestic abuse
  • Identification – looking for signs, frequent injuries, inconsistent stories, overbearing partners, anxiety, nervousness.
  • Assessment – try and tactfully find out the situation, extent of issues and injuries and whether there is any support currently in place.
  • Documenting and reporting – as well as being crucial generally this could be a key piece of future evidence if the woman wants to take her case to court.
  • Safety planning – supporting a woman to find out where help is available and providing information
  • Referral – look to refer to your local networks of women’s support services.

    As an example of clever safety planning, one nurse told me of a scheme whereby lip-balms were issued to women with the emergency Women’s Aid number concealed as a bar code.

    At the conference, the nurses in the audience were tasked with going back to their workplaces and enquiring about support for women experiencing domestic abuse, finding out the key contacts locally and raise awareness of support for women facing domestic abuse with their team and Trust.

    Which leaves me with one question – what are YOU going to do to help women to gain support if you suspect or know they are facing domestic abuse or violence?

    Find Bernie on Twitter at @EnterpriseSBox and online at


    In memory of Sarah Gosling, 1970 – 2012.