Some private SARCs failing young victims, says BBC investigation

Young victims of sexual assault may not be being forensically examined quickly enough in privately-run sexual assault referral clinics (SARCs), a BBC investigations has found.

The broadcaster said it had spoken to eight doctors ‘who wanted to blow the whistle’ on inadequate care they had witnessed at independent clinics, which included reports of incorrect injury recordings and evidence contamination.

One doctor reportedly told the BBC that she knew of ten cases in the past two years where pre-pubescent children were not examined within three days of being assaulted because a qualified member of staff  was unavailable.  

A previously unpublished Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) review of forensic evidence in 2009 was requested under freedom of information by the BBC.

It said the audit showed that a SARC run by healthcare company Primecare, in the Midlands, had submitted just one out of 13 cases of forensic evidence to court which were deemed to contain  ‘acceptable documentation of injuries’.

Primecare has been transferred to healthcare provider CRG following the sale of its financially troubled parent company Allied Healthcare in November.

A spokesperson from Allied Healthcare said that the Midlands-based centre had been acquired three times by other providers since 2009.

‘Given the historical nature of this case, and that the statutory period for retaining audits of this nature has now passed, we no longer hold records on this particular centre,’ the spokesperson said.

‘We take all allegations extremely seriously and investigate them rigorously when they arise, in line with regulatory guidelines and in cooperation with all bodies involved.’

The CPS told the BBC that ‘significant improvements’ have been made at the clinic in the last nine years.

Commenting on the findings, an NHS England spokesperson said: ‘[We have] not been made aware of any of these concerns and we would strongly encourage those involved to report these serious allegations to the forensic regulator.

‘[SARCs] are important services which is why the NHS has tripled its funding over the past five years and has measures in place to make sure alongside the police that they are providing the care needed in a timely way.’

The NSPCC’s policy and public affairs manager Andrew Fellowes said: ‘We are appalled by these reports.

‘The quality of these critical services needs to be monitored, with any concerns thoroughly investigated and providers held to account for any failings.’

A Care Quality Commission spokesperson added: ‘Since this has been brought to our attention we have consistently urged any individual with concerns to raise these with us directly.

‘We carried out two pilot inspections of [SARCs] early last year, and began the inspections in November 2018. As with all of our inspections, we have relevant specialists on the inspection team to make sure we get an expert assessment of quality on the day and as part of the new inspection methodology, inspection staff also receive training from specialists in sexual assault referral services.’