New national standards for forensic examination of rape victims to be introduced in Scotland

Written by Jenni Davidson on 10 February 2017 in News

The Scottish Government has announced that national standards for medical examinations of victims of sexual violence will be published this year

Hospital waiting room - Image credit: D Coetzee via Flickr

New national standards for medical examinations of victims of sexual violence are to be introduced in Scotland.

The new forensic standards will be produced by Healthcare Improvement Scotland, which will ensure best practice is followed when examining victims following a rape or sexual assault and increase consistency of services across the country.

They will lay out clearly what is expected in the delivery of care for victims, building on the work of the National Coordinating Network for Forensic Medical Services, and ensure NHS boards are clear about their role.


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Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “It is important that victims of sexual violence feel confident coming forward, knowing they are going to be supported every step of the way, including forensic examination.

“While the way evidence is gathered and recorded is a top priority for the legal process, it must be balanced with the needs of victims, who may be vulnerable and traumatised.

“Therefore I am pleased Healthcare Improvement Scotland are developing new national standards – an important step in ensuring a consistent and sympathetic service.

“Understandably, many sexual assault victims want to be examined by a female doctor.

“We are working hard to understand the barriers for woman getting involved in this area of medicine, as we seek to achieve a greater gender balance.”

The announcement comes as a survey was issued this week to find out what can be done to encourage more female doctors to get involved in this area.

The Scottish Government and NHS Education for Scotland are working in partnership to gather information on the perceptions and concerns of female doctors.

Dr Louise Scott, who carries out forensic examinations in Stornoway, said: “When an individual has been brave enough to come forward after sexual assault, healthcare professionals have a vital role as part of that multi-agency response in meeting both the therapeutic needs of the victim and the high standard of evidential requirements.

“Many doctors and healthcare professionals may not realise they already have many of the professional skills required to provide a competent and caring response for victims of sexual assault and that, with the additional training and support available, they could be contributing to a high quality, co-ordinated, sensitive and victim-centred forensic medical response within their community.”

Responding to the announcement, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott called for the new national standards to recognise island circumstances.

This follows issues being raised recently about victims having to travel from Orkney and Shetland to Aberdeen for forensic examinations.

Scott has since received an assurance from the First Minister that the Scottish Government will invest in medical equipment and specialist training to ensure victims of sexual assault can be assisted in the islands.

He said: “Today’s announcement of the introduction of new standards is welcome.

“But there are significant challenges to be overcome in helping sexual assault victims.

“Rape Crisis Shetland have made warnings that the prospect of travelling to the mainland is preventing survivors from coming forward and getting the justice they deserve.

“On top of these new standards we need a commitment from the Scottish Government that facilities and training will be provided to ensure medical examinations can be offered in Lerwick.

“That would be a welcome step in the right direction and would encourage more people to come forward.”

Sandy Brindley, National Coordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland said: “The response someone receives following rape can vary greatly, depending where they live and when the offence took place.

“Developing new standards should ensure that, no matter where someone lives in Scotland, they can access an appropriate and sensitive response.

“Forensic examinations conducted in an appropriate location, by a female doctor, with coordinated sexual health follow up and emotional and practical support, could make a huge difference to rape survivors’ experiences.”

The new standards are expected to be rolled out by the end of 2017 and the National Health and Social Care Workforce Plan, which is also due to be published this year, will support NHS boards to develop a trained workforce to deliver services in this area.

Minimum standards for the forensic examinations to victims of a sexual offence were already set out in 2013 by a working group including members of NHS boards, the Scottish Government, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Victim Support Scotland, SPA Forensic Services, Police Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland, but they are not obligatory and health boards do not have to formally report on how they are applied.

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