Lifetime NHS mental health care for sexual assault victims

Victims of sexual abuse will receive a lifetime of mental health care to help cope with the trauma, NHS England has announced.

As part of a five year strategy delivering a new package of sexual abuse and assault care across England, the NHS has set out plans for better care, including Sexual Assault Referral Centres integrated across community services and improved provision for men.

Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price recently joined senior NHS staff at The Havens, one of the health service’s leading treatment and support centres, run by King’s College Hospital, which is a model of new services to be rolled out across the country from this year.

On visiting the centre in south London, Kate Davies, NHS England Director of Sexual Assault Services, said: “The physical and emotional impact of sexual crimes lasts a lifetime, so it’s important that survivors can get the help they need, whenever they need it.

“The physical effect of these crimes is so shocking that it can be easy to overlook the long-term mental health needs, which may be less visible but not less harmful. Across England, the NHS is expanding care for people with mental ill health, whatever their condition, and our new guarantee of personal, joined-up and life-long care for those who have suffered sexual assault and abuse, will build on excellent progress to address a big gap in care.”

NHS England’s Strategic direction for sexual assault and abuse services has been developed with survivors and victims of these crimes, alongside Government and charities and is backed by investment of £4m per year until 2020/21.

The strategy will mean a significant improvement of sexual assault and abuse health services, including:

  • easier access to treatment centres for combined physical and mental health treatment
  • a commitment that any victim and survivor of sexual assault or abuse will get trauma care throughout their lifetime
  • support and guidance for all community services to join up care and prevent victims falling through the gaps between organisations
  • better access to information for the public on available services, how to access care and guidance to understand the long term impact of trauma.

Dr Rebecca Adlington, a Consultant at The Havens, the London sexual assault referral service which is delivered at three Sexual Assault Referral Centres across the capital, said: “We welcome this commitment to lifelong support for people affected by sexual violence.

“Rape and sexual assault can significantly impact on the health and wellbeing of an individual in both the short and longer term, affecting many aspects of daily life. The provision of specialist advice and mental health support is key to supporting recovery.”

Minister for Mental Health and Inequalities, Jackie Doyle-Price, said: “The scars left by sexual violence may not always be visible, but they can be profound and long lasting – it is my priority that we have the best possible support available for survivors.

“NHS England’s new sexual assault strategy and the commitment within it to provide care that is better signposted, more joined up and long lasting is essential so that all survivors can access the support they need for as long as they need it.

“The more confident survivors are that they will get the right care and treatment, the better.”

In the year ending September 2017, police recorded 138,045 sexual offences, the highest figure on record. It is estimated that up to 80% of incidents are unreported and as few as 28 per cent of victims talk to the police.

In 2017/18, Sexual Assault Referral Centres carried out around 10,000 forensic medical examinations following this type of crime. Recent high-profile incidents, reporting of historic cases and increasing availability of treatment and support are more likely to mean that victims and survivors of this type of crime seek help.

The NHS in England took on responsibility for delivering Sexual Assault Referral Centres in 2013, with funding for these services increasing from £10m five years ago to £31m in 2018/19.

The health service’s new strategy for these services will give every organisation involved a blueprint for delivering care, which will mean more resources dedicated to prevention, improved awareness across communities of safeguarding and better involvement of service users in the design of quality treatments delivered by well-trained staff.