No plans to increase number of Sexual Assault Treatment Centres says Health Minister

There are no plans to increase the number of sexual assault treatment units across the country, Health Minister, Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris said the three-hour target was not met for 10% of the 941 people who had to travel to one of the six units last year. “We need to fix that,” he said.

A Department of Health report recommends providing “rapid responders” to deal with cases like that of rape victim, Dominique Meehan, from Co Donegal.

She had to travel 80km to the unit in Mullingar because the unit in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital was closed. Mr Harris said there would be €500,000 in extra funding for the six units this year – a 25% increase.

He said the number of forensic nurse examiners would increase this year from six to 15 and the number of forensic medical examiners would also increase from six to 15.

Funding for two additional training programmes would also ensure that they could continue to provide more forensic medical examiners.

And, for the first time, rapid responder forensic examiners would be able to travel to patients in their local unit if there are staff shortages.

The minister referred to Ms Meehan, who was unable to change her clothes or have a drink for hours because the Dublin unit was closed. Mr Harris said the rapid responder forensic examiner would be able to respond to cases like Ms Meehan's.

He said:

It was a clever and sensible recommendation that the review group came up with. It shows that we want to be a victim-centred service.

However, it was later put to Mr Harris that while Ms Meehan welcomed the news about the extra funding, she believed more units were needed around the country. Mr Harris said the review group decided to resource the existing six units that work in close collaboration with the Rape Crisis Centres and An Garda Síochána.

Many of those who present at the units are young people: 50% are under 25 years of age. The executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, Cliona Saidléar, welcomed the report because it underlined the importance of ensuring the sustainability of the service.

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