Improving health services for victims of sexual assault

Chief Medical Officer to lead expert group.

An expert group is being established to drive improvements in the provision of health services for victims of rape and sexual assault.                       

Chaired by Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood, the implementation group will provide the necessary leadership so that Health Boards commit to providing these services to better meet the needs of victims.

Key priorities for the new group include:

  • Reducing unnecessary delays
  • Addressing situations where victims have to travel unreasonable distances to be examined
  • Issues around the availability of female medical professionals in this area

The group will also consider carefully a report published today by HMICS on current arrangements for forensic medical examinations in sexual offences cases, which makes recommendations regarding consistency and standards of support for victims.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said:

“The current provision of services for victims of rape and sexual assault is provided by motivated and committed professionals but more needs to be done to create a consistently high standard of service across Scotland. We know these individuals need the very best care at a time of great trauma and, while a forensic examination may be necessary for evidential reasons, there is a need to ensure the response is first and foremost health focussed and victim centred.

“I am grateful that the Chief Medical Officer has agreed to convene a group of key experts to ensure NHS Boards are in a position to meet new National Standards and to examine closely the concerns and recommendations made by HMICS.”

Cabinet Secretary for Health Shona Robison said:

“We know that the majority of doctors carrying out forensic medical examinations are male, when many victims understandably would rather be examined by another woman. With NHS Education we have surveyed female doctors to see what is stopping more women pursuing this area of work and are currently considering the responses.

“It is important that we look at how we ensure survivors of sexual crimes across Scotland are able to access skilled and empathetic professionals, regardless of where they are in the country and we will use the analysis of this survey and the advice of this expert group to improve the support for victims of these horrendous crimes.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood added:

“I have seen in my professional career the severe trauma of a sexual assault. It is absolutely vital that victims are not put under further strain by a system that should be serving their best interests. 

“Recent developments in Shetland where GPs have stepped forward to offer their support to setting up a local service offer one example of the sort of progress we want to see nationally. Meanwhile, the HMICS report sets clear priorities to ensure services are transformed to better support victims, recognising they are also patients.

“It is critical that all partners on the group work together so we can develop a clear and consistent trauma informed service for anyone who requires to undergo forensic examination.”

Sandy Brindley, National Coordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland said:

“We have had significant concerns for some time about the response to the immediate needs of people in Scotland who have been raped or sexually assaulted. The least we should be able to offer someone who has just been through the trauma of rape is an examination by female doctor in a suitable environment, with appropriate follow up to address their health and support needs.

“This is not currently available for most rape survivors in Scotland. We welcome today's announcement of the new implementation group, and hope that it will lead to meaningful change in how we respond to people across Scotland who have been raped or sexually assaulted.”

Dr Roger Diggle, Forensic Services Lead and Medical Director for NHS Shetland added:

“With the support of the Scottish Government and involvement of partner agencies including Police Scotland, Rape Crisis and Scottish Women's Aid, our plan to take a victim-centred approach which, once established, will safeguard those at risk of harm, provide compassionate medical care and forensic examination where this is required.

“Work is progressing to ensure we have the necessary equipment, accommodation and appropriately trained staff in place in Shetland. We are further committed to providing on-going support where appropriate including signposting to and working with voluntary sector organisations.”


The group will ensure Boards are ready to implement new National Standards being developed this year by Healthcare Improvement Scotland. This work will be subject to a eight week consultation period and we expect the Standards to be published by the end of the year.

A survey of female doctors to find out perceived barriers to undertaking forensic examinations for victims took place last month. Responses are being analysed.

Final membership of the leadership and implementation group is being finalised and is expected to include:

  • Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood
  • NHS board representation
  • NHS Scotland gender-based violence lead Katie Cosgrove
  • Healthcare Improvement Scotland
  • NHS Education Scotland
  • Police Scotland
  • Scottish Police Authority
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
  • Rape Crisis Scotland
  • Scottish Government


Lesley Brown: 0131 244 4001 / 07510 507010


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