Sexual assault and abuse

Sexual assault and abuse are serious crimes which continue to have a significant impact on our society. The devastating consequences for any victim can often be misunderstood and neglected.  Despite this, the vast number of victims remain hidden due to a fear of coming forward or a lack of faith in organisations.

As the lead commissioner for sexual assault referral centres (SARCs), NHS England has begun to develop strategic partnerships with the Home Office, local Police and Crime Commissioners and the Ministry of Justice to help address this issue and develop improved services for the victims of sexual assault and abuse.  In support of this and in line with NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, the Strategic direction for sexual assault and abuse services has been produced, which sets out what is needed by 2023 to improve service provision and consequently patient experience for those who have experienced sexual assault or abuse.

A key focus of the Strategic direction is considering how pathways of care need to change to ensure those who have experienced sexual assault and abuse have appropriate and timely access to services throughout their life.  The Strategic direction outlines how services need to evolve to ensure that as much as possible can be done to safeguard individuals and to support them at times of crisis and in particular, at the point of disclosure.

Underpinning this are six core priorities, which are:

  • Strengthening the approach to prevention
  • Promoting safeguarding and the safety, protection and welfare of victims and survivors
  • Involving victims and survivors in the development and improvement of services
  • Introducing consistent quality standards
  • Driving collaboration and reducing fragmentation
  • Ensuring an appropriately trained workforce.

The Strategic direction has been informed by a lengthy period of engagement with key partners and most importantly with survivors of sexual assault and abuse.  Partners supporting this document include government departments, the Department of Health, Department for Communities and Local Government, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Public Health England, directors of Adult Social Services and third sector survivor organisations. These partners, along with the victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse, have welcomed the opportunity to work together to co-develop a health and well-being focussed strategy, which takes into account a lifelong pathway of care for survivors and seeks to drive the improvement of services now and in years to come.

Sexual assault referral centres

In April 2013, NHS England took on the lead commissioning role for sexual assault referral centres (SARCs), together with Police and Crime Commissioners. A supporting service specification has been developed to inform the standard of service provision and ensure high clinical standards for those adults, children and young people using SARCs.

The delivery aim of SARCs is to provide clients with:

  • acute healthcare and support in age-appropriate settings
  • comprehensive forensic medical examinations
  • follow up services which address their medical, psychological, social and ongoing needs
  • direct access or referral to Independent Sexual Violence Advisors.

This commissioning responsibility is led by the NHS England regional Health and Justice teams that support 47 SARCs across England. This has been underpinned by increased investment since 2015/16 to reflect a growth in demand for these services.

NHS England is reliant upon a co-commissioning relationship between itself, the wider NHS, police forces, Police and Crime Commissioners and local authorities to ensure the continued existence of care pathways for victims and referrals at a time of crisis support.

The Commissioning Framework for Adult and Paediatric Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) Services details commissioner requirements for providers to deliver a SARC service.