Three of four sexual assault units in jeopardy

THE future of three of the country’s four sexual assault treatment units (SATUs) is in jeopardy because of a lack of funding and a shortage of staff, according to a report to be launched today.

The report, Sexual Assault Treatment Services — A National Review, which was commissioned by the Government, found:

* The unit in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, which conducts 300 forensic medical examinations a year, “is now at crisis point” because of staffing difficulties. The service has to depend on the availability of nurses from the gynaecological ward to provide out-of-hours service to victims. Victims who are not filing a complaint to gardaí can attend by appointment only.

* In Waterford Regional Hospital, funding for GPs carrying out forensic examinations is only guaranteed for one year. Due to staff shortages, services are only available to rape victims who wish to report a crime.

* In Letterkenny General Hospital, the service is limited to the Donegal region, due to staffing shortages and difficulties attracting GPs. The review warns the unit “is struggling to remain open with only two doctors providing the forensic medical examination services on an ad hoc basis”.

None of these three SATUs receives Government funding. The only unit with Department of Health funding is in Cork. The review, reported in the Irish Examiner in February, warns Cork is “the only SATU that can be confident regarding its sustainability”.

The review, carried out by a subgroup of the National Steering Committee for Violence Against Women for the Departments of Health and Justice, found the absence of SATUs in some parts of the country, particularly the West and the Midlands, was leading to lower reporting rates.

It recommends setting up two new units, in Galway and the Midlands, at an estimated cost of €320,000. It also recommends that a dedicated interview room be available at a garda station in each Health Service Executive region because lack of facilities “may deter victims from proceeding with the case”.

Retention of doctors who act as forensic medical examiners (FMEs) is identified as a major problem in the review.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) executive director Fiona Neary said they were urging the Government and the HSE to deliver on the main recommendations of the review without delay.

“Ultimately we want to cut down on the nightmare scenario for rape victims of being driven half way across the country to get to one of the four existing units,” she said.

“We are already behind schedule as the review envisaged two new units opening this year in the West and the Midlands. The full budget implications of the review are estimated at €2,815,612.”

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