Griffith Base Hospital without private space for sexual assault victims and social workers for 38 years

It was in 1978 that Yvonne Wilson, then a support worker for Griffith’s Woman’s Refuge, found out Griffith Base Hospital had no designated private space for sexual assault victims to wait for treatment. 

This meant rape victims were forced to wait alongside other traumatised patients.

There was also no social worker at the hospital on hand to provide immediate counselling. 

Over the next 39 years, Ms Wilson and others raised these issues time and time again, with boards, bureaucrats and Ministers. 

In 2017, there is still no designated private space for sexual assault victims. There is still no social worker employed at the hospital.

Kirrilly Salvestro, Deputy CEO, Linking Communities, also said "there is only one doctor at Griffith Base Hospital accredited to administer rape kits. If she is on leave or unavailable, the victim may have travel to Wagga."

Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) conceded sexual assault victims may have to travel hours for treatment, but say it hasn’t happened this year.

“In 2017, no Griffith sexual assault victims have been required to travel to another site to access a forensic medical examination. In a very few cases in the past, victims have been transferred to specialist child abuse or mental health units, as required by NSW Health.”

MLHD also said “sexual assault victims are prioritised in the Emergency Department (ED). On presentation to the ED the victim is triaged and then is immediately shown to a private area and a sexual assault counsellor is contacted”. 

But Ms Salvestro said, “if the designated room that is supposed to be for victims of sexual assault is occupied by a mental health patient there is nowhere private for a victim of sexual assault to wait. She (or he) may be in the waiting room or in a general bed in the emergency department. This can compound the trauma for the victim”.

At a public meeting last Monday, Ms Wilson, now CEO of Linking Communities, asked MLHD chief executive Jill Ludford why the MLHD hasn’t yet provided a designated space for sexual assault victims at the hospital. 

“Why can’t be have it now?” Ms Wilson asked

“Because we need to build and we need to plan,” Ms Ludford said

“We’ve been waiting for at least [38 years year],” Ms Wilson said

“The process has commenced and we’ll make sure we consult with you as we go forward,” Ms Ludford replied.

Ms Wilson and Ms Salvestro agree hospital staff are doing a fantastic job, but are hampered by lack of resources. 

“A more wholistic approach is required for patients within the hospital in relation to mental health and sexual assault,” Ms Salvestro said.

“Social workers employed within the hospital would enable collaborative outcomes for patients with external services and may stop them falling through the ever increasing mental health gaps.

“Victims of trauma and assault are often seen, triaged, discharged and forgotten without receiving extra support required to assist them to overcome the trauma”.

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The Area News questions

Can you confirm there is only one doctor at Griffith Base Hospital accredited to administer rape kits? 

What happens if that one doctor is on leave or unavailable? 

Has a sexual assault victim seeking help at Griffith Base Hospital ever had to travel to Wagga hospital for a rape kit to be administered, due to lack of qualified staff at Griffith? 

Can you confirm sexual assault victims may have to wait several hours for a rape kit to be administered?

Do sexual assault victims have to wait for treatment at Griffith Base Hospital in a general bed in the emergency department, surrounded by other patients? 

Can this compound the trauma for sexual assault victims? 

How long has Griffith Base Hospital been without a designated space for sexual assault victims to wait for treatment? 

What have the MLHD done over the past 10 years to rectify this situation? 

Is it true that many sexual assault victims are not provided with counselling at Griffith Base Hospital, due to a lack of qualified staff available? 

Why is there no social worker employed at Griffith Base Hospital? 

Full MLHD response

There is currently one doctor accredited to administer rape kits at Griffith Base Hospital. This doctor is an extensively trained, experienced and accredited specialist who delivers forensic services to adults and children in the Griffith area.

However, this doctor is also supported by a team of 12 specialist medical examiners across the MLHD who are also accredited to administer rape kits and who are able to fill in for this doctor if needed. There has only been one occasion in the past four years when this has been necessary.

Annual refresher Forensic Medical Examiner training is provided by MLHD in conjunction with the Education Centre Against Violence (ECAV) to all doctors providing this service in MLHD. MLHD requires the FMEs to undertake extensive training and to be suitably experienced to ensure quality services are provided to the highest level.

This training includes the gathering of forensic specimens, injury management/interpretation and client care of traumatised patients.

Specialist forensic services are located at Wagga Wagga, Deniliquin, Young, Albury, Griffith and from time-to-time at smaller MLHD sites. The MLHD Sexual Assault Services maintain a list of available forensic examiners across the District and if a doctor is unavailable the nearest forensic examiner will offer this service.

In 2017, no Griffith sexual assault victims have been required to travel to another site to access a forensic medical examination. In a very few cases in the past, victims have been transferred to specialist child abuse or mental health units, as required by NSW Health.

Sexual assault victims are prioritised in the Emergency Department (ED). On presentation to the ED the victim is triaged and then is immediately shown to a private area and a sexual assault counsellor is contacted.

If indicated, medical staff ensure that forensic toxicology is collected immediately and injuries are treated. A sexual assault counsellor provides crisis within 30 minutes of presentation to Griffith Base Hospital.

The counsellors have expertise in acute reactions to rape and can assist in offering support, providing options and explaining hospital process. The counsellors also support family and friends of the victim. Many victims elect to be provided with ongoing counselling to reduce the impact of the sexual assault/trauma. 

Clients are treated within a private space within the Emergency Department. The privacy of sexual assault victims is a critical part of their care. Sexual assault victims are treated in the most private, safe environment available within the ED and are screened from other patients. Every effort is made to ensure the client’s confidentiality and privacy are maintained while also ensuring that safety is monitored.

1. What have the MLHD done over the past 10 years to rectify this situation?

There have been many changes over the years:  MLHD Sexual Assault Services provides Forensic Medical Examiner simulation training bi-annually by the Education Centre Against Violence. This training has been offered in the last two years at Albury, Wagga and Griffith. This training was made available to all general medical practitioners across the Murrumbidgee with the invitation to participate in the provision of these services if suitably qualified.

 MLHD has developed clear protocols for caring for victims of sexual assault/trauma. The protocols, adopted by all ED staff, prioritise the patient’s immediate and future safety, health and emotional needs.

2. Is it true that many sexual assault victims are not provided with counselling at Griffith Base Hospital, due to a lack of qualified staff available?

This is incorrect. There are currently two Sexual Assault Service staff that provide face-to-face crisis and ongoing counselling in Griffith. The Griffith Sexual Assault Service is based at the Griffith Community Health Centre and they are contacted following a sexual assault presentation to the Emergency Department.

In addition, MLHD employ a JIRT (Joint Investigation Response Team) clinician who provides intervention and follow-up for child victims and their families. These staff work within a team of 29 trained trauma counsellors across the Murrumbidgee who provide counselling services to those that have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, physical abuse and neglect. If you have experienced sexual assault and are wishing to access counselling, please contact Griffith Sexual Assault Service on (02) 6966 9900.

3. Why is there no social worker employed at Griffith Base Hospital?

Recruitment of a full-time social worker for Griffith Base Hospital is being finalised and an appointment is expected to be made shortly.

If this story raises any issues for you, please contact your local Sexual Assault Service or Accessline on 1800 800 944.​