NHS England has announced that all victims of sexual assault and abuse will get community mental healthcare for life.
The plan for sexual assault referral centres, which will be integrated across community services in England, comes as part of the NHS’s five-year strategy for delivering better care to survivors.
The strategy of care is backed by investment of £4m per year until 2020/21 and was developed by survivors and victims of sexual crimes in partnership with the Government and charities.
NHS England took on responsibility for delivering sexual assault referral centres in 2013, with funding for these services increasing from £10m then to £31m in 2018/19.
The new strategy 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 treatments, according to NHS England.
Survivors will be given easier access to treatment for the combined physical and mental health effects of sexual abuse, with services placing a greater emphasis on provision for male victims.
Community services will be given support and guidance to join up care and prevent victims from ‘falling through the gaps’ between organisations, NHS England said.
As part of the strategy, NHS England has promised to provide better access to information for the public on available services, how to access care and guidance to understand the long-term impact of trauma.
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 lifelong care for those who have suffered sexual assault and abuse, will build on excellent progress to address a big gap in care.’
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 2016/2017, 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% 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.
It is believed that 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 sexual abuse seek help.