Doctors want action on aid for child abuse victims

FORTY-SIX children alleging sexual abuse have been examined this year by forensic specialists providing a voluntary out-of-hours services for the mid-western region alone.

This amounts to almost one child a week.

Now, however, Dr Joanne Nelson and Dr Roger Derham say they have been forced to withdraw their services in a last-ditch effort to force the HSE West to provide an adequate and sustainable service.

As highlighted in the Irish Examiner, there are no out-of-hours on-call services for under 14s, leaving vulnerable children in limbo. It also means vital DNA evidence can be lost.

According to Dr Nelson, her audit of figures from January to August this year showed 37 young people had been seen, 60% of those were less than 10 years, and 13 were male and 24 female. Twenty-two cases were seen either Monday or Friday, six on a Saturday or a Sunday and one on a bank holiday Monday.

Dr Nelson said from August to the end of the year another nine cases had been seen. She maintains, however, twice this number would present if it was advertised as a 24-hour service.

She said there was no appreciation of the seriousness of examining a young person immediately — even though emergency services are in place for adults.

“If a child is raped at 5pm on a Friday, they could be forced to wait 60 hours before seeing a doctor. That’s 60 hours where DNA evidence is deteriorating, as if you are assaulted, you are not supposed to wash, go to the toilet, or eat or drink in case of contaminating evidence. There is no appreciation of the urgency of forensics and no appreciation of the trauma associated with asking a child who has been assaulted to wait.”

Official HSE figures fall far short of Dr Nelson’s figures and, according to a spokesman for the HSE west, referrals to the service over the past three years total 44.

The spokesman said referrals may come from other services but the HSE would not have those records.

Dr Nelson said it seemed as though the HSE was conveniently playing down figures.

“Referrals come directly from HSE social services and also An Garda Síochána especially in emergency cases often out of hours,” she said.

“Gardaí would request the service from a forensic viewpoint, and have been paying for it for children as the case arises. However, all examinations have both a forensic and health remit and all cases requested by gardaí will have a social services referral and input (at a later stage). So the HSE will have an input in all cases whether they acknowledge it or not,” she said.

Dr Nelson said the situation was the same across the country where there is no one on call to examine a child victim of acute sexual assault.

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