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Government invests in training programme to help isles’ sexual assault victims

A TRAINING programme that will allow forensic medical examinations for victims of sexual crimes to take place in Shetland is underway after the Scottish Government granted £76,000 of funding to the pilot project.

The news was confirmed on Thursday afternoon when justice secretary Michael Matheson visited the isles to meet with NHS Shetland, the local Rape Crisis team and members of the Shetland Domestic Abuse Partnership.

The training should mean that victims of sexual crimes will soon no longer have to travel to the Scottish mainland – by police escort and without a wash – for examination.

Rape Crisis Shetland’s Linda Gray previously said she thought some victims were being put off from reporting incidents because they didn’t want to go through the ordeal of travelling south.

She said she was “absolutely delighted” by the announcement, which will see NHS Education Scotland use the grant to fund up to 50 places for doctors from across Scotland to complete the training course by 2018/19.

NHS Shetland will also be offering training to all staff who are likely to deal with sexual assault victims – such as police officers and sexual health staff – so that they fully understand the process.

Welcoming the training programme, NHS Shetland’s chief executive Ralph Roberts said he was pleased for the health board to be part of a pilot “for a new approach to training which can be delivered remotely to our doctors who will undertake forensic examinations and other staff who will provide important health and emotional support for victims”.

He added: “In developing our service in Shetland we will be working closely with partners such as Police Scotland, Victim Support and Rape Crisis so that we provide support to victims of sexual violence that meets their individual needs and treats them with dignity and respect”.

Matheson said that the programme should encourage more female doctors to take part in forensic testing,

On Thursday the MSP met with one of three Shetland GPs who are among the first to take part in the training programme.

“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,” Matheson said.

“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: “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.”

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, who had previously called for long term investment in training, praised the work of Rape Crisis Shetland.

“Linda Gray and her team deserve enormous credit for making the case for this health service training,” he said.

“Without their persuasive advocacy that recognised the circumstances that rape survivors in Shetland faced, little would have changed.

“I am very supportive of the justice minister making this happen and want to thank Michael Matheson for being open to this clear need and doing something about it.

“In future no Shetland rape survivor should ever have to face the reality of a flight to Aberdeen. Instead they would be seen by a GP here in Shetland. That is the right thing to happen.”