Report urges greater staff support at sexual assault units

Simon Harris launches review aimed at tackling rising levels of sexual violence

Minister for Health Simon Harris with the head of the policy and strategy unit at the Department of Health Rhona Gaynor (left) and Sexual Assault Treatment Unit director Dr Maeve Eogan at the publication of a report on strengthening care for sexual assault victims. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Health Simon Harris with the head of the policy and strategy unit at the Department of Health Rhona Gaynor (left) and Sexual Assault Treatment Unit director Dr Maeve Eogan at the publication of a report on strengthening care for sexual assault victims. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A national plan is needed to counter rising levels of sexual violence, according to Minister for Health Simon Harris.

“We have to create a culture where gender-based violence is not in any way acceptable,” the Minister said, speaking at the launch of a review by his officials of the State’s six sexual assault treatment units which are in operation in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Mullingar, Letterkenny and Waterford.

It calls for increased resourcing for the units to ensure a sustainable service into the future, and the introduction of a more holistic care for patients over the long term. Staff supports should be increased to resolve systemic under-management and greater uniformity of services needs to be introduced.

A three-hour target for treating people at the units was met 90 per cent of the time, the review says. Rather than opening new units, the Department of Health plans to fund rapid responder teams to improve performance.

Mr Harris said Ireland needed to see what it could do to counter sexual violence, through proper conversations about the issue, changes to consent rules and more accurate data.

He said it was “frightening” that incidents tended to spike during occasions that were supposed to be “festive, happy and social”, such as music festivals, Freshers’ weeks in colleges and Leaving Cert results nights.

According to the report, about 50 patients had to travel to a unit outside their local area, leading to delays in their treatment. The extra travel involved added to their trauma. According to one patient quoted in the report: “It was nerve-wracking, it was very emotional waiting so long. I would rather get it over and done with quickly.”

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation welcomed the new funding, staffing and policy package announced by the Minister for the units.

The €500,000 package followed representations made by the union last year on behalf of nurses working at the units.

Some 941 people visited a unit in 2017 and two-thirds went on to report a rape or sexual assault to the gardaí. One out of every 10 patients attending the unit is a man while one in two is aged under 25.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said she planned to bring forward a new policy on sexual consent in Irish educational establishments within a few weeks.