Personal barriers to addressing intimate partner abuse: a qualitative meta-synthesis of healthcare practitioners’ experiences

Publication Name

BMC Health Services Research


Background: Healthcare practitioners (HCPs) play a crucial role in recognising, responding to, and supporting female patients experiencing intimate partner abuse (IPA). However, research consistently identifies barriers they perceive prevent them from doing this work effectively. These barriers can be system-based (e.g. lack of time or training) or personal/individual. This review of qualitative evidence aims to synthesise the personal barriers that impact HCPs’ responses to IPA. Methods: Five databases were searched in March 2020. Studies needed to utilise qualitative methods for both data collection and analysis and be published between 2010 and 2020 in order to qualify for inclusion; however, we considered any type of healthcare setting in any country. Article screening, data extraction and methodological appraisal using a modified version of the Critical Appraisal Skills Program checklist for qualitative studies were undertaken by at least two independent reviewers. Data analysis drew on Thomas and Harden’s thematic synthesis approach. Results: Twenty-nine studies conducted in 20 countries informed the final review. A variety of HCPs and settings were represented. Three themes were developed that describe the personal barriers experienced by HCPs: I can’t interfere (which describes the belief that IPA is a “private matter” and HCPs’ fears of causing harm by intervening); I don’t have control (highlighting HCPs’ frustration when women do not follow their advice); and I won’t take responsibility (which illuminates beliefs that addressing IPA should be someone else’s job). Conclusion: This review highlights the need for training to address personal issues in addition to structural or organisational barriers. Education and training for HCPs needs to: encourage reflection on their own values to reinforce their commitment to addressing IPA; teach HCPs to relinquish the need to control outcomes so that they can adopt an advocacy approach; and support HCPs’ trust in the critical role they can play in responding. Future research should explore effective ways to do this within the context of complex healthcare organisations.

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

National Health and Medical Research Council



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