Strengthening health services for victims of sexual assault

Ten actions are to be implemented over the next two years.to strengthen the health service provided to victims of sexual assault.

This follows the policy review of the National Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) service.
Health Minister, Simon Harris has committed an additional €0.5m to fund the changes this year.

They are:

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  • Increasing and ring-fencing the SATU budget by 25%
  • Developing robust national oversight of this critical area of health service delivery
  • Supporting a more sustainable SATU workforce to ensure excellent care for vulnerable patients
  • Expanding the SATU service so that the longer-term emotional and social needs of patients, as well as their immediate medical and forensic needs are looked after.

Publishing the Review, the Minister said “I’m so proud today that following an accelerated Policy Review led by my officials – the first of its kind – we will be taking a major step forward in enhancing the service provided to patients and the supports provided to staff working in this difficult area”.

“The Review seeks to ensure a coordinated national health response to sexual assault. I am pleased to announce an additional €0.5 million in funding for the SATU service in 2019 so that this much-needed work can begin immediately”.

The Minister announced a dedicated Joint Department of Health/HSE Review Implementation Team to be established immediately to implement the actions arising from the review. It would, he said report back to him on progress within six months.

Dr Maeve Eogan, the National Medical Director of SATU said “Patients are always at the centre of our service and staff’s minds and we continually strive to do our best for them. This has not always been an easy task to due staff shortages and increasing demands. The actions set out in this review will support us better in ensuring we continue to provide a high-quality service to patients as close to home as possible.

“We don’t want anyone to need our service, but if they do, they can be assured that they will have the support of committed, compassionate and expert professionals in their nearest SATU.”

The Department said the six SATUs in Dublin, Mullingar, Galway, Waterford, Cork and Donegal) provided 24/7 medical and psychological care to victims of sexual assault, 365 days a year, working in close collaboration with the Rape Crisis Centres and An Garda Síochána.

“Each Unit is staffed night and day by expert professionals qualified in forensic examination – a group who demonstrate extreme dedication and commitment to their patients.

“An additional nine Forensic Nurse Examiners will start working in the service in the Autumn after completing training. This will increase the number of FNEs from 6 to 15.

“Funding is being provided for two additional Forensic Medical Examiner training programmes.”
“Many of those who present at SATUs are young people: 50% are under 25 years of age.

“Support is available from the Rape Crisis Centres National 24-hour helpline every day of the year on 1800778888. This phone line offers a free, confidential listening and support service for women and men who have been raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed or sexually abused at any time in their lives.
“There are very strong working relationships between SATUs, An Garda Síochána and the Rape Crisis Centres nationwide.

“Further information on free of charge services provided through the Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATUs) in Dublin, Mullingar, Galway, Waterford, Cork and Donegal is available through www.hse.ie/satu

The Department said data on the incidence of sexual violence was limited, but they did know that the reporting to SATUs was increasing. There were 941 presentations to SATU in 2018 and there had been an average annual increase of approximately 11% over the last four years.

“The service is based on patient empowerment, consent and choice – for example, patients can now choose to store evidence for up to a year while they decide if they want to report the offence to An Garda Síochána.”

There are 10 Actions arising from the review as follows:

  1. Increase and ring-fence baseline funding for SATUs nationally by 25%
  2. Create a National SATU Service Network, supported by a National Management Team.
  3. Resource a minimum day-time, team-based staffing model for each SATU.
  4. Create a rapid responder ‘on-call’ rota so that forensic examiners can travel to support patients in their local unit.
  5. Roll out more frequent, flexible, modular, and inter-professional training to build a sustainable pipeline of qualified staff.
  6. Recognise the challenge of the working environment by introducing high quality emotional supports for all staff (core and on-call).
  7. Improve oversight and quality assurance by introducing mandatory clinical supervision for all core and on-call staff.
  8. Expand the scope of service to include patient liaison and the coordination of medium-term after-care for patients.
  9. Communicate the role of and support available through SATUs more routinely and effectively.
  10. Convene a Sexual Assault Services Management Group of senior operational decision makers from different sectors to improve patient experiences and outcomes.