Sexual assault treatment service for children re-opens

The State’s only 24 hour service for the forensic examination of children and adolescents who have been sexually abused or allegedly raped, which is located in the city and closed last month, has re-opened.

The facility, which assessed/treated more than 70 children in 2015 and has operated on a 24-hour basis since 2011, resumed its service on Friday at 4pm.

It closed initially on New Year’s Day after forensic examiners at the centre, which is based in Ballybrit, withdrew their services because of what they termed the HSE’s failure to offer medical indemnity insurance. However it re-opened within days. It closed again for the month of March and only re-opened on April 1.

Children and adolescents under 14 who required the service attended the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin in the intervening period.

The HSE said at the weekend that it was “happy” to announce that a resolution has been reached with the examiners who provide the child and adolescent sexual assault treatment service.

Speaking at the announcement, Dr Joanne Nelson - who set up the service with Dr Roger Derham five years ago - said she was delighted the service had resumed “following agreement and funding to meet minimum standards for best practice”.

Tony Canavan, the HSE’s chief officer for community services in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon said the health authority was happy to have been able to come to an agreement with the team who provide this service.

“We would like to acknowledge that this is the only 24 hour service in Ireland where young victims of sexual abuse or alleged rape can be forensically examined.”

Deputy Catherine Connolly earlier this week described the re-opening of the facility as a “very welcome development”. She added that the confirmation that arrangements have now been put in place to ensure that it will not close again is also good news.

The newly elected Independent TD for Galway West tabled a Dáil question in relation to the matter. “That such an essential service which assessed/treated 70 children alone in 2015 was lurching from closure to threatened closure was not acceptable and should never be allowed happen again,” she said.

“The unit is absolutely essential given the prevalence of sexual assault and violence in the community-statistics which unfortunately have been repeatedly confirmed. More particularly the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Study (known as SAVI ), an internationally recognised piece of research in 2002, highlighted the appalling figures. This groundbreaking study consulted over 3,000 randomly selected Irish adults and found that 42 per cent of women and 28 per cent of men experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lives.”

The former vice chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum said its finding that sexual violence in Ireland still remained one of the most under-reported and under-recorded of violent crimes was particularly significant.

“Given this background and indeed the findings of the various reports into child sexual abuse including the Ryan Report, the Murphy Report and the Roscommon Enquiry, the closure of a dedicated sexual assault unit for children under 14 years of age simply beggared belief.”

It was all the more unacceptable, said Deputy Connolly, given the enormous effort it took to have the unit opened in the first place. She said as a member of the Regional Health Forum since 2006 she continually campaigned for the establishment of this service.

“The unit finally opened in 2009 but did not offer any service outside of office hours. Following further pressure from both the medical personnel and politically, a full 24 hour service was set up in 2011 in a rented building in an industrial estate.”

At this point, said the local TD, it is time to move forward and examine the construction of a permanent premises.

“The HSE West confirmed in February that a brief is currently in the end stages of development for a purpose build facility on the grounds of Merlin Park Hospital. It will require however an application to be submitted to the National Capital Approval Committee for approval and this is a matter I will be closely monitoring.”

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