Staffing levels at the country’s six Sexual Assault Treatment Units are “scandalous” according to the CEO of Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre.
Noeline Blackwell told Newstalk Breakfast that frequently the largest unit at Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, which covers one third of the country, cannot operate at weekends because of a lack of staff.
In one case a victim of sexual assault in Dublin had to wait five hours for examination at the unit in Mullingar during which time she could not wash, eat, drink or use a bathroom.
The staffing problems come at a time when the country’s sexual assault units have seen a 20% increase in the number of people attending them since 2015.
Ms Blackwell said the situation is now “desperate” and she is concerned that victims of sexual assault will not receive the care they need and that evidence needed for a trial will not be gathered.
“Forensic evidence is needed for trials. Think of the shock and trauma the victims have to go through. They report an assault to Gardaí, they are taken seriously, but in order to take evidence they have to go to Mullingar in a squad car, or any car.”
She explained that the staffing of the sexual assault units is the responsibility of the HSE, but that there is a crisis in recruitment and retention. “People need to be properly trained to take evidence and to deal with people in distress.”
Ms Blackwell said there are only six staff working full time in the six sexual assault units around the country. “They need more part time staff on call. There are not enough of them.”
It takes a year to train a nurse in forensic care, she said. At present there is a group who commenced training last September, but they will not be qualified until late next September.
“For the moment we’re very stuck. It’s a scandal. Dublin is the biggest city in the country and it can’t give care to victims.
“There is always a danger that staff won’t be available this weekend which will add to the horror of anyone who is assaulted. These crimes are intimate assaults and they require an intimate investigation. While they’re waiting they can’t eat or drink. It’s desperate.”