LimeCulture was asked to present at the national sexual health conference ‘Into the Future: Sexual Health Beyond Transition‘ on 15 February 2013. The conference was organised by NHS London‘s Sexual Health Programme and the aim was to celebrate the achievements of sexual health services with a view to taking the learning about ‘what works’ as preparations begin for Local Authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS Commissioning Board to commission sexual health services from 1 April.
LimeCulture was asked to speak about Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) and what the future holds for the network of specialist services for victims of rape and sexual assault with regard to the monumental changes that are taking place within the NHS and other public services.
The majority of the audience were sexual health commissioners and service providers – and not from the specialist sexual violence sector- Stephanie Reardon, speaking on behalf of LimeCulture explained the huge scale of the challenge in relation to sexual violence and the estimated numbers of women, men and children who experience sexual violence every year and the need for them to have a high quality and effective multi-agency response. She explained the need for robust and clear pathways between SARCs and sexual health services, where many victims will access support- often without disclosing their abuse. There is a real need for professionals to be able to identify and respond to these vulnerable people and their specific needs in relation to sexual violence- and to make onward referrals to appropriate services, such as SARCs.
Stephanie then went on to outline policy context around sexual violence and why the previous Government and the Coalition Government have been so supportive of SARCs. For anyone not familiar with the concept of a SARC, they are specialist services where men, women and children can receive medical care and access to counselling, and have the opportunity to assist a police investigation, including undergoing a forensic examination, if they so chose. They are located throughout England and Wales, Scotland and the SARC in Northern Ireland is due to open it’s doors shortly.
Stephanie- and all of the LimeCulture team- have extensive experience of SARCs following the 2 year programme of work by the Department of Health‘s National Support Team for the Response to Sexual Violence. The National Support Team was established to provide support to areas developing a SARC and also to ensure that existing SARCs were operating as well as possible. Stephanie’s presentation outlined the findings from the National Support Team visits and how the network of SARCs has been developed over the last few years. The presentation focused on the importance of SARC service provision to support victims of sexual violence and the need to safeguard such important services while the commissioning arrangements change.
The next few years could prove to be a turbulent time for SARCs. New commissioning arrangements and the inevitable changes to contracting and monitoring that this will bring, providers of SARC services will need to demonstrate their effectiveness, value for money and overall outcomes for the people who use these services. The quality and productivity of these services will undoubtedly have to be of the highest standard in order to see them (re)commissioned into the future and beyond transition.