All NHS staff should have and apply a clear understanding of the risk factors for violence and abuse when interacting with patients, according to a report from the government’s task force on the health aspects of violence against women and children.

It recommends appropriate basic education and training for all staff to meet the needs of women and children who have experienced violence and abuse; more advanced education and training of “first contact” staff and those working in specialties with an increased likelihood of caring for women and children who have experienced violence or abuse; and staff awareness of the associations and presentations of violence and abuse and how to broach the issue sensitively and confidently.

Professor Sir George Alberti, who chaired the taskforce, said: “More women suffer rape or attempted rape than have a stroke each year, and the level of domestic violence in the population exceeds that of diabetes.

“It’s a public health issue of great concern and the NHS has a clear duty to help and contribute to the multi-agency efforts to increase the safety of women and children in our society and provide much greater support,” he said.

As part of its response to the report, health secretary Andy Burnham said the Department of Health would set up a group to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations. The Department of Health will also publish guidance to help the NHS provide appropriate local services.

Mr Burnham said: “Our aim is to ensure that victims of violence receive the very best of care to help them through such difficult times and Sir George Alberti’s report will help us build on work already under way.”

Royal College of Midwives general secretary Cathy Warwick said: “This is a very welcome report. Violence against women and children is an issue that historically has not had enough attention and resources.

“The RCM hopes that the NHS will be prepared to act on the recommendations in the report, and be committed to provide the resources to help women with the emotional and physical consequences of violence and abuse. Without this commitment, this report will remain just words on paper and many women will continue to suffer violence and abuse.”

The taskforce forms part of a cross-government programme on tackling violence against women and girls, which was launched by the Home Office in November 2009.

Click here to read the report.