More funding for rape forensic services in Scotland

2 December 2018, 06:06 | Updated: 2 December 2018, 06:13

Generic image of hospital doctor

The Scottish Government has announced £8.5 million in funding to improve forensic medical examinations and other health services for victims of rape and sexual assault.

This financial year, £2.5 million will go towards recruiting staff, providing training and building facilities.

The remaining £6 million will be split equally between 2019-20 and 2020-21.

It will help ensure standards introduced last year - including stopping rape and sexual assault victims having forensic medical examinations in police stations - are implemented.

Rape Crisis Scotland said these changes are "welcome but long overdue" and said Scotland still has a long way to go to achieve a nationwide minimum standard.

The cash will support the work of the Government's Rape and Sexual Assault Victims Taskforce, set up last year following a critical watchdog report on the quality and availability of forensic medical services for sex crime victims.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland found significant variations in the services across the country, with some "unacceptable" and many carried out in police stations.

Some victims faced lengthy journeys for examinations and in some cases were asked not to wash for a day or more after an assault.

The report, published in March 2017, found Scotland is "well behind" the rest of the UK when it comes to having facilities that meet both the needs of victims and the necessary forensic requirements.

Government actions to tackle this included announcing plans to change the law to clarify the responsibility for forensic medical examinations to ensure consistent provision throughout Scotland.

A consultation is under way on draft guidelines for healthcare for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted, including forensic medical services.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: "I want to see compassionate healthcare and support should be as close as possible to the point of need.

"Our taskforce is driving improvement in this important area and they are on track with their five-year plan."

She praised a new forensic unit at NHS Forth Valley, one of the services backed by this year's funding, which is due to open in April 2019.

The unit will have a forensic suite and a specialist area for children as well as police interview areas for both children and adults and staff trained in dealing with trauma.

A Rape Crisis Scotland spokeswoman said: "Rape is a crime which can have a significant and long lasting impact.

"The immediate response from agencies and the quality of help available can make a big difference to someone who has just been raped or sexually assaulted.

"The news of this investment, which will help to implement the standards announced a year ago, is very welcome.

"The very least survivors of rape should be able to expect is a standard of forensic care which will allow their examination to take place in an appropriate location and the choice to have this undertaken by a female forensic examiner - regardless of geographical location.

"These changes are welcome but long overdue and we have a long way still to go before that minimum standard is achieved across the country."