New programme to train doctors to examine sexual assault victims to be trialled in Shetland

Written by Jenni Davidson on 17 August 2017 in News

The aim of the programme is to increase the number of female forensic examiners in Scotland

Lerwick, Shetland - Image credit: swifant via Wikimedia Commons

A programme to train more doctors to provide forensic examination to victims of sex crimes is to be trialled in Shetland.

The Scottish Government is giving NHS Education Scotland (NES) £76,000 of funding to review the training available for doctors, make it more accessible and fund up to 50 places for doctors to complete the course by 2018/19.

The Scottish Government has been criticised over a lack of support for victims in the Northern Isles, who currently have to travel to Aberdeen to be examined after a rape or sexual assault.

The redesigned training programme follows a survey where 819 doctors gave their views on perceived barriers to becoming forensic medical examiners.

Research had shown a lack of trained female forensic examiners in Scotland, but 55 per cent of female respondents to the survey were interested in working in this area.


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In addition to redesigning training for doctors and nursing staff, NES is creating a clinical position to mentor trainees, look at how more women can be recruited and how the training is promoted.

The changes to the course should address some of the barriers preventing doctors pursuing forensic medical examination.

Following the pilot in Shetland, the aim is to roll out the training to other parts of Scotland.

NHS Shetland is also offering all staff dealing with victims of sexual assault access to training, including sexual health staff and police officers, so that each member of the team fully understands the process.

On a visit to Shetland today, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson met with met with Shetland Rape Crisis, NHS Shetland and members of the Shetland Domestic Abuse Partnership to discuss the impact the training could have.

Matheson said: “It is vitally important that we do all we can to ensure that the process of gathering evidence of rape or sexual assault doesn’t cause more trauma to victims.

“I am pleased to hear first-hand the actions that NHS Shetland, Rape Crisis Scotland and others are taking to address a lack of provision in island communities.

“Making this training more accessible and this new funding for doctors to become qualified to carry out these examinations will mean that victims should no longer have to travel to the mainland for evidence to be taken.

“We also hope that it will encourage more female doctors throughout Scotland to come forward and become qualified to provide this service.

“As we learn from this pilot we can look at rolling this training out in more communities to ensure that services are improved across Scotland.

Professor Stewart Irvine, Medical Director of NHS Education for Scotland, added: "Victims of rape and sexual abuse deserve the best possible care whether they are in urban or rural areas.  

“It is fundamentally important that no matter what part of Scotland we are dealing with, medical staff can have access to accredited, high-quality training.

"NHS Education for Scotland is delighted to work with NHS Shetland to test and develop the training that is available to rural staff.

“In addition to redesigning training for doctors, we are creating a lead clinical position to act as a champion and resource for newly trained forensic medical examiners, to support recruitment of more women to this area of work and to support improvements to how the training is promoted nationally."

In March 2017 Matheson announced the formation of the Taskforce for the Improvement of Services for Victims of Rape and Sexual Assault.

The group, under the leadership of Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood, is looking into issues around availability of female doctors, reducing delays, addressing the issue of victims having to travel unreasonable distances for examination and improving consistency in the standards of care of victims.

Alongside this, new national standards ‘Healthcare and Forensic Medical Services for People who Have Experienced Rape, Sexual Assault or Child Sexual Abuse’, which are currently under consultation are expected to be published by Healthcare Improvement Scotland before the end of 2017.

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