Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has been in Shetland to highlight a pilot project aimed at ensuring sexual abuse victims can remain in the isles for forensic medical examinations.
Three GPs are taking part in the programme, which has been discussed following concerns rape victims had to endure agonising trips south.
During his visit to the Gilbert Bain Hospital, Mr Matheson met key staff, including one of the GPs taking part in the remote training programme.
It comes as £76,000 is being made available to NHS Education Scotland to help with the programme.
Mr Matheson told The Shetland Times: “We need to improve the way we deliver services for victims of sexual crime – to make sure that, for women who undergo a forensic medical examination, we change the way that is being done at the present moment.
“A key part of that is about training more doctors to carry out these examinations – in particular female doctors.
“So the programme we are now putting in place is to pilot a new training programme for doctors to be trained in forensic medical examinations.
“That’s going to be piloted here in Shetland. We’ve got three of the GPs who are willing to take part in that pilot.”
Making this training more accessible will mean that victims should no longer have to travel to the mainland for evidence to be taken. MICHAEL MATHESON
He said 50 doctors would be trained across the whole of the country by 2018/19 to carry out these types of examinations.
“That will fundamentally change the way in which we deliver services not just here in Shetland, but right across the country.”
He added: “Making this training more accessible will mean that victims should no longer have to travel to the mainland for evidence to be taken. We also hope that it will encourage more female doctors throughout Scotland to come forward and become qualified to provide this service. As we learn from this pilot we can look at rolling this training out in more communities to ensure that services are improved across Scotland.”
His comments follow a meeting with representatives from partner organisations, including Shetland Rape Crisis, to hear how the training is being designed to be inclusive for medical, nursing and all other supporting roles in remote communities.
NHS Shetland’s chief executive, Ralph Roberts, said: “Having worked with NHS National Education for Scotland and the Scottish government, we are pleased to be part of a pilot for a new approach to training which can be delivered remotely to our doctors who will undertake forensic examinations and other staff who will provide important health and emotional support for victims.
“In developing our service in Shetland we will be working closely with partners such as Police Scotland, Victim Support and Rape Crisis so that we provide support to victims of sexual violence that meets their individual needs and treats them with dignity and respect”.
The move for isles-based forensics comes after calls from Linda Gray of Shetland Rape Crisis, Rape Crisis Scotland and isles MSP Tavish Scott to offer services here.
Mr Scott said: “Linda Gray and her team deserve enormous credit for making the case for this health service training. Without their persuasive advocacy that recognised the circumstances that rape survivors in Shetland faced, little would have changed.
“So I am very supportive of the Justice Minister making this happen and want to thank Michael Matheson for being open to this clear need and doing something about it.
“In future no Shetland rape survivor should ever have to face the reality of a flight to Aberdeen. Instead they would be seen by a GP here in Shetland. That is the right thing to happen.”