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Minister confirms sexual assault victims will no longer have to leave isles for forensic tests

Scottish justice secretary Michael Matheson.
Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson.

SCOTTISH justice secretary Michael Matheson has praised NHS Shetland for “rising to the challenge” after it committed itself to providing forensic examinations for survivors of sexual assaults without them having to leave the islands.

The MSP confirmed at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday afternoon that victims will no longer have to travel to the Scottish mainland for tests in the future.

At present, those who have undergone the trauma of a sexual assault or rape in Shetland need to travel with a police escort to the mainland for testing without being able to wash themselves.

In February the Scottish Government confirmed it would look into implementing new national standards on forensic testing in a bid to ensure provision across the country was the same.

Speaking at Holyrood in an update to MSPs about the taskforce, Matheson said the government has continued to press for reformation of the system.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and his Orkney counterpart Liam McArthur had repeatedly called for “long-term investment” in facilities and training in the Northern Isles.

“I can give my assurance now, as I did then, that the Scottish Government is committed to making meaningful changes to rectify this situation,” Matheson said.

“Since that discussion, I am pleased that Shetland health board has announced plans for a local, victim-centred device to provide forensic examination and compassionate medical health care on the island.”

He hoped that victims in Orkney, who also have to travel to the Scottish mainland, will also soon be able to receive testing on-island.

Scott responded: “This is steady progress towards the service that women subjected to the worst kind of crime should expect from the NHS and Police Scotland.

“So it is an encouraging step forward and a tribute to the strength of the argument made by Shetland Rape Crisis campaigners and professionals. Why this situation was ever allowed to occur in the first place is a fact we all need to question.”

Rape Crisis Shetland previously said it felt some victims were being put off from reporting incidents because they didn’t want to go through the ordeal of travelling south for testing.

Police previously bought in forensics from the NHS before testing was transferred to the health service in 2014.