Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:46 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham 5:46 pm, 14th May 2019

I welcome the debate, as public health cuts are having a dramatic impact across the country. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 pushed responsibility for sexual and public health services from the NHS to local authorities—from national oversight to a postcode lottery. In Rotherham, we are fortunate that the contract for sexual health services was retained by the NHS. Others in south Yorkshire were not so lucky, leading to patchy provision by private providers, increasing waiting lists and services being shut.

Public health funding is vital for preventing sexual disease, but it is also important in recognising sexual harm and responding to it. When I visit Rotherham’s sexual health clinics, I am constantly struck by how, for many, they are often the first port of call for disclosing sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and modern slavery. We need to build a healthcare system that is ready to support victims of the most horrendous sexual crimes, not one that is driven by profit.

Sexual assault referral centres have a key role to play in the matrix of support for survivors, and I have been encouraged by recent investment in them. However, England has only 47 of the 71 SARCs recommended under the Istanbul convention. People are not aware that they can self-refer, and that SARCs are also for past sexual abuse, not just recent rape. The Government need to do more to promote that information.

The all-party parliamentary group on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which I chair, last week published a report following a six-month investigation into support for adult survivors. Some 89% of survivors told our inquiry that their mental health had been negatively impacted by child sexual abuse, but only 16% said that NHS mental health services met their needs.

Survivors said that they want the specialist voluntary sector to provide them with counselling and support. Our research found that specialist voluntary sector agencies receive, on average, 13% of funding from local authorities and 14.5% from clinical commissioning groups. However, when I asked the Department of Health and Social Care for its assessment of the effectiveness of CCG funding of therapeutic services for survivors, I was shocked to find that it does not even collect data. Does the Minister agree that the Government need to get a grip on the effectiveness of commissioning specialist voluntary sector services and that they should start by collecting the right data?

Survivor after survivor told the APPG of disappointing interactions with NHS staff who were often poorly equipped to respond to disclosures of child sexual abuse and ill-informed about the services they could refer patients to. The Minister needs to ensure that frontline professionals, including GPs, sexual health nurses and social workers, are trained in trauma-informed practice, so that survivors receive a service that is empathetic, empowering and appreciative of the impact of trauma.

Today’s debate is rightly framed around reversing the cuts in public health spending. This is a sorry, short-sighted state to be in. The Health Foundation calculates that an additional £3.2 billion a year must be made available just to reverse the impact of Government cuts to public health services.

The APPG’s inquiry found that as our understanding of the scale of sexual violence and abuse grows, and ever more survivors come forward looking for support, the Government should meet the challenge by launching a nationwide public health campaign that raises awareness of the impact of child sexual abuse on survivors, tackles myths and stereotypes and directs survivors and professionals to information and support. Does the Minister agree that we have a moral duty to provide survivors of sexual abuse with the knowledge they need to make decisions about their own recovery, especially in the absence of knowledgeable professionals and access to public services? Will she therefore lobby the Chancellor to make a serious commitment to ring-fence funding for all sexual and public health services in the next spending review and to make sure that some of the money is dedicated to services and information for victims and survivors of sexual abuse? Any less is a dereliction of duty.