Victims of sexual abuse to receive ‘lifetime of mental health’ support
The NHS has pledged Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) integrated across community services and improved provision for men as part of a five year strategy for sexual abuse and assault care across England.
Ministers said the proposals offer more help to those suffering the “profound and long-lasting” effect of sexual violence.
The announcement comes amid a doubling in the number of rapes being reported to forces in the last three years – 48,934 compared to 24,043 in 2014 – with an 89 per cent rise in all sexual offences recorded in England.
In the year ending September 2017, forces recorded 138,045 sexual offences, the highest figure on record. It is estimated that up to four-fifths of incidents are unreported and as few as 28 per cent of victims talk to police.
The increases follow a string of high-profile investigations including Operation Yewtree, launched in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
NHS England Director of Sexual Assault Services Kate Davies said: “The physical and emotional impact of sexual crimes lasts a lifetime, so it’s important that survivors can get the help they need, whenever they need it.
“The physical effect of these crimes is so shocking that it can be easy to overlook the long-term mental health needs, which may be less visible but not less harmful.
“Across England, the NHS is expanding care for people with mental ill health, whatever their condition, and our new guarantee of personal, joined-up and life-long care for those who have suffered sexual assault and abuse, will build on excellent progress to address a big gap in care.”
NHS England’s strategic direction for sexual assault and abuse services has been developed with survivors and victims of these crimes, alongside Government and charities and is backed by investment of £4 million per year until 2020/21.
The strategy will mean a significant improvement of sexual assault and abuse health services, including:
• Easier access to centres for combined physical and mental health treatment;
• A commitment that any victim and survivor of sexual assault or abuse will get trauma care throughout their lifetime;
• Support and guidance for all community services to join up care and prevent victims falling through the gaps between organisations; and
• Better access to information for the public on available services, how to access care and guidance to understand the long-term impact of trauma.
Minister for Mental Health and Inequalities Jackie Doyle-Price said: “The scars left by sexual violence may not always be visible, but they can be profound and long lasting – it is my priority that we have the best possible support available for survivors.
“NHS England’s new sexual assault strategy and the commitment within it to provide care that is better signposted, more joined up and long lasting is essential so that all survivors can access the support they need for as long as they need it.
“The more confident survivors are that they will get the right care and treatment, the better.”
In 2017/18, SARCs carried out around 10,000 forensic medical examinations following this type of crime.
Recent high-profile incidents, reporting of historic cases and increasing availability of treatment and support are more likely to mean that victims and survivors of this type of crime seek help.
The NHS in England took on responsibility for delivering Sexual Assault Referral Centres in 2013, with funding for these services increasing from £10 million five years ago to £31 million in 2018/19.
The health service’s new strategy for these services will give every organisation involved a blueprint for delivering care, which will mean more resources dedicated to prevention, improved awareness across communities of safeguarding and better involvement of service users in the design of quality treatments delivered by well-trained staff.
Dr Rebecca Adlington, a consultant at The Havens, the London sexual assault referral service that operates from three SARCs across the capital, said: “We welcome this commitment to lifelong support for people affected by sexual violence.
“Rape and sexual assault can significantly impact on the health and wellbeing of an individual in both the short and longer term, affecting many aspects of daily life. The provision of specialist advice and mental health support is key to supporting recovery.”