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HMICS criticises medical care for sex attack victims

30 March 2017

Inadequacies in the forensic medical services proivided to adult and child victims of sexual offences have been identified in a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS), with services offered to some victims being described as "unacceptable".

The report, which follows a review of how victims access forensic medical services, identifies significant variations in availability and quality around Scotland. It found that Scotland was well behind the rest of the UK in respect of the availability of dedicated healthcare facilities which meet both the health care needs of victims and the necessary forensic requirements.

It makes 10 key recommendations, including the need to address the lack of availability of specialist services offered to victims of sexual crime in Glasgow, where a "two tier" service results from the Archway facility not being available for significant periods of time, particularly overnight and at weekends, when an "inadequate" alternative service is delivered in a police station.

There is an urgent need, it adds, for Police Scotland to work with NHS boards to identify appropriate healthcare facilities for the forensic medical examination of victims of sexual crime, phasing out of police premises as soon as is practical.

It also calls for an urgent review of the current memorandum of understanding between Police Scotland and NHS Scotland for the provision of healthcare and forensic medical services.

Further recommendations concern the need to improve forensic cleaning standards in those police custody settings where suspected perpetrators of sexual abuse are examined, and that Police Scotland works with NHS Scotland to move forensic examinations of suspects aged under 16 into a more appropriate health care setting than police custody facilities.

The report welcomes the announcement of nationwide standards by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in February 2017, alongside greater clarity around the statutory responsibilities for delivering these services – another matter on which it comments. These will be critical, it says, to improving how victims of sexual crime obtain the medical attention they need while ensuring forensic evidence is also gathered for criminal justice processes.

Gill Imery, Assistant Inspector of Constabulary at HMICS, who led the review, commented: "Sexual crimes have a devastating effect on victims and so it is imperative that the support they receive, both from health and criminal justice professionals is high quality and consistent irrespective of where they live.

"The priority of forensic medical examinations should always be to address the immediate health needs and future recovery of the victim, with the gathering of evidence towards potential criminal justice proceedings being an important but not the sole consideration."

She added: "In order to address the current disparity in forensic healthcare services across Scotland, it is clear that further investment will be required to fund appropriate healthcare professionals, including forensic nurses and the premises and equipment used for forensic medical examinations.

"In cases where victims of sexual crime seek support but are unsure whether they wish to report a crime to the police, they must have the option of a forensic medical examination to capture forensic evidence should they subsequently decide to make a report. It is imperative there is clarity around the process of securing and retaining forensic evidence to allow for investigation at a later stage if the victim subsequently chooses to disclose details of the crime."

Click here to access the report. 

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