While staff in the health care profession are obliged by law to report suspicions of domestic abuse, lawyers at Sweden's National Health and Welfare Board (Socialstyrelsen) said on Monday they believe that not all cases reach the attention of social services.
"It could be because there aren't enough routines in place so people know what to do," lawyer Marit Birk told the TT news agency. "Or there is lack of knowledge, or you may not want to destroy the relationship with your patient."
The welfare board this week released a proposal that includes both rules and recommendations to help caregivers follow the letter of Sweden's welfare law (socialtjänstlagen). The recommendations, however, are not legally binding, but rather advise healthcare professionals on how to respond to suspicions of violence in the home.
"Our goal is to give better protection and support to victims of violence," Birk commented.
If local authorities take on the rules and recommendations published on Monday, Birk said they would hopefully be more in tune with Sweden's social welfare laws.
Health and welfare professionals should, for example, make a formal assessment whether a child or adult that has been abused at home runs the risk of being assaulted again. The welfare board also said it was crucial that local authorities know who among their staff has the responsibility of making that assessment, but also to follow up on it.
In the health care sector, the report found that staff at accident and emergency rooms, women's clinics, and psychiatric units all had to improve their work in identifying and helping patients who may have been battered in the home.
The guidelines have now been sent to an expert panel for review. They will become binding in April 2014 if no revisions take place.