The HSE said it has no immediate plans to establish a full time Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) for victims of sexual assault or rape in the mid west region, despite renewed calls for one to be set up in Limerick to replace a decade old "out of hours" service, writes David Raleigh.
Since 2006, the Mid West Forensic Medical Examination (FME) Service, based at University Hospital Limerick, (UHL), has provided a forensic medical examination service, following referral by An Garda Síochána, from between the hours of 7pm-5.30am (Monday-Friday), including a 24 hour service at weekends and bank holidays.
This means, that during normal working hours, victims have to travel hundreds of kilometres outside the region for a medical examination.
There are six full time 24-hour SATUs in Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Mullingar, Waterford, Galway.
The present mid west out of hours service is delivered from a Clinical Room in the Outpatients Department, UHL, facilitating both males and females of 14 years upward.
Since January 2011, victims under the age of fourteen must attend for examination at the specialist Child & Adolescent SATU Services in Galway.
When asked if it had any plans to replace the present service in Limerick with a 24-hour SATU, the HSE responded: "There are no local plans for further development or expansion in 2017."
It also stated: “The HSE in the Mid-West provides an (F.M.E.) Forensic Medical Examination Out of Hours service for victims of alleged sexual assault aged 14 years or over. Through an established protocol Gardai can activate this service. During day time hours there are dedicated national centres, services and protocols which the Gardai can utilise.”
“The FME is a HSE provided service and the wider support network after such incidents is supported by Rape Crisis Midwest."
Cliona Sadlier, executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, meanwhile, has backed calls made by Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins to formally upgrade the service to SATU status.
While Ms Sadlier said she acknowledged the present out of hours service, through the "dedication" of local gardai, GPs, and local HSE staff, was "functioning well”, she said it was “not fair” on victims.
"It makes sense to put it on the same footing as the other SATUs, given its size and population. Limerick has been treated differently to all other centres because it doesn’t have the formal (SATU) status, and therefore the funding to support it (as such),” she added.
Deputy Niall Collins said how "given the population in the mid west, it’s unreasonable, and it’s not acceptable, to expect a victim of an alleged sexual assault or rape to have to travel to Cork or to Galway to have evidence collected".
The Head of the Limerick Garda Division, Chief Superintendent David Sheahan explained that, while he did not believe the lack of a full time SATU had impeded local garda investigations into sexual crimes, he agreed a full time SATU, based in Limerick, would lesson the burden of victims having to travel.
According to the latest SATU report there were “no service complaints” recorded against the mid west FME service during 2016.
The National SATU Annual Key Service Activity Report, published last month, referring to the mid west service, stated: "In 2016, 17 forensic medical examinations were carried out (15 Females and 2 Males). This represents a decrease in numbers from 2015 where 22 examinations went ahead at the service.
It added: "In 2016, the number of cases where the person was under the age of 18 was 4."
The out of hours service at UHL was allocated a budget of €32,000 last year and was coordinated through the office of the HSE Primary Care Development Officer, with “call outs” supported by Shannondoc.
At the end of 2016 there were four GPs operating on a rota system following the retirement of a fifth doctor. Two additional GPs were to join the rota following a period of induction training.