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IT-enabled support required for SATU patients — clinical director

The pandemic saw a significant drop in the number of patients who were able to speak with support workers from rape crisis centres at time of attendance at sexual assault treatment units (SATUs), according to statistics provided to this newspaper.

Clinical Director of the national SATU service Dr Maeve Eogan said there was a decline in access to this “crucial portion” of the service.

In regard to the period 12 March to 28 June, Dr Eogan told the Medical Independent (MI) “only 33 per cent of people attending SATUs got to speak with someone from rape crisis at time of SATU attendance in that 2020 timeframe, while 78 per cent had the opportunity to get this support in the [same] 2019 period.”

Dr Eogan said “this is a crucial portion of the multidisciplinary holistic care we offer in SATU”.

“While the face-to-face support from rape crisis centres is returning now on a phased basis, this has highlighted that we need to advocate and perhaps fundraise for IT, for example iPads, to support remote but personalised contact from a rape crisis centre volunteer at the time of SATU attendance, even if face-to-face contact is not possible.”

Dr Eogan added there were some interesting findings when examining SATU data from recent months.

 “When comparing SATU attendances between the period from 12 March until 28 June to the same period the previous year, attendances in the 2020 period were over a third less — 273 patients in the same timeframe in 2019, compared with 167 in 2020.

“This shows, however, that sexual violence is not all related to colleges, clubs and pubs, which would often be a narrative used when sexual violence is being discussed.

“The mean age of patients attending SATU services was slightly higher in the 2020 period (30 years) compared with the same period in 2019 (26 years), and it seems that a greater proportion of men may have attended over the 2020 period, when compared with 2019.”

Approximately 20 per cent of SATU attendees disclosed an incident perpetrated by an intimate (or ex-intimate) partner or family member, compared with 13 per cent for the same period in 2019.

The SATU service’s 2019 annual report, published last month, noted that 943 people who disclosed rape or sexual assault were treated in the six SATUs. Some 93 per cent were female. An additional 20 people were cared for in the out-of-hours service at University Hospital Limerick, “which has a slightly different structure and funding stream”.

The number of patients attending SATUs increased for the fifth consecutive year, although by less than 1 per cent.

Asked whether the geographical spread of the six SATUs (Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Mullingar, Galway and Letterkenny) resulted in access problems, Dr Eogan said the services needed to be widely highlighted to prevent this from happening.

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