Tuesday 22 October 2019

Rapid responders to be deployed as sex assault units struggle to cope

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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Rapid response forensic medical examiners are to be deployed to offer cover at hard-pressed sexual assault treatment units.

Crippling staff shortages at the six units across the country have led to some victims being forced to embark on long journeys to be examined after their ordeal.

The pledge to provide "rapid responder" examiners to address the problem is made in a major report to be published today.

It follows a review of the "seriously under pressure" sexual assault units across the country.

The Department of Health report, to be launched by Health Minister Simon Harris, will promise €500,000 in extra funding for the six units this year to address key weaknesses.

These include staff shortages, which have forced some centres to close at weekends.

The closures have meant that some victims who need to be forensically examined have had to travel many kilometres to another unit.

Rape victim Dominique Meehan, from Co Donegal, has previously told of the trauma of having to travel 80km to the unit in Mullingar because the unit in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital was closed.

Ms Meehan, who was 24 at the time, wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, telling him how she was unable to change her clothes or have a drink for hours because of the closure.

As well as Mullingar and the Rotunda, there are units in Cork, Galway, Letterkenny and Waterford.

The report shows the units are under strain as demand increases, catering for 580 women and men in 2017. There has been an average annual 11pc rise in presentations.

Among the 10 practical actions set out in the report is increasing the number of forensic nurse examiners from six to 15.

Two additional training programmes for forensic medical examiners will be put in place.

It is also planned to improve the look and feel of each unit this year.

Plans for next year include an extra €250,000 in funding to expand the service and provide liaison support.

A national network with an improved governance and accountability structure is also due next year.

In 2021, further changes will be made including offering an expanded service for every patient who attends.

The report said there was good inter-agency co-operation and extraordinary commitment by staff. But there needs to be an increase in staff support.

There was also a need to improve national decision making to reduce local variation in services.

Irish Independent

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