Victims of sexual violence will receive better support thanks to new nationwide standards to improve forensic medical examinations.
It is hoped the move will encourage more victims to report attacks.
The standards, which will ensure best practice is applied during examinations after a rape or sexual assault, will be produced by Healthcare Improvement Scotland.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, the MSP for Falkirk West, said: “It is important that victims of sexual violence feel confident coming forward, knowing they are going to be supported every step of the way, including during the forensic examination.
“While the way evidence is gathered and recorded is a top priority for the legal process, it must be balanced with the needs of victims, who may be vulnerable and traumatised. Therefore I am pleased Healthcare Improvement Scotland are developing new national standards – an important step in ensuring a consistent and sympathetic service.”
The new standards will ensure that NHS health boards across the country are clear about what is expected in the delivery of care for victims, including the conditions and way in which forensic examinations are handled.
Sara Twaddle, Director of Evidence for Healthcare Improvement Scotland, said: “It is vital that victims of rape or sexual assault receive the best care and support possible, that they have confidence in the service and that forensic examinations are carried out to the same high standard across the country.
“The setting of clear standards is vital in helping drive improvements in the care people receive.
“We look forward to being involved in this important work and building on the positive work of the National Coordinating Network for Forensic Medical Service.”
The announcement comes as the Scottish Government and NHS Education for Scotland have launched a survey to find out what can be done to encourage more female doctors to get involved in such examinations. Mr Matheson added: “Understandably, many sexual assault victims want to be examined by a female doctor. We are working hard to understand the barriers for woman getting involved in this area of medicine, as we seek to achieve a greater gender balance.”
Sandy Brindley, National Coordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland, said: “The response someone receives following rape can vary greatly, depending where they live and when the offence took place. Developing new standards should ensure that, no matter where someone lives in Scotland, they can access an appropriate and sensitive response.
“Forensic examinations conducted in an appropriate location, by a female doctor, with coordinated sexual health follow-up and emotional and practical support, could make a huge difference to rape survivors’ experiences.”
Professor Stewart Irvine, Medical Director of NHS Education for Scotland, added: “We believe that these standards, in conjunction with our work identifying potential barriers to female doctors and supporting a greater gender balance in doctors carrying out examinations, will help provide better outcomes for survivors of sexual assault.”
The standards are expected to be rolled out before the end of the year.