Done with talking, Queensland’s health minister has flexed her legal muscle to address a public hospital “cultural problem” and ensure timely care for rape victims.
Shannon Fentiman on Friday issued Queensland’s first ministerial directive that will require public hospitals to help sexual assault victims within 10 minutes.
Hospital clinicians who do not comply face potential disciplinary action under the historic directive exercised through powers available to Ms Fentiman after legislation passed in 2011.
Ms Fentiman intervened after becoming aware of yet another woman who did not receive proper care.
“I wasn’t prepared to continue discussions with our hospitals. I wanted to make sure that there was a lawful directive in place,” she told reporters.
“It has legal force. If people do not comply with the directive then that can be used in disciplinary proceedings.
“My hope is that any victim survivor that comes forward is seen in a timely way and in a compassionate way.”
The minister had repeatedly told public hospital and health services (HHS) in recent weeks that she expected staff to provide timely care after a number of sexual assault victims claimed they had been turned away.
She reiterated her stance following allegations a rape victim did not receive proper care at a central Queensland hospital before getting an apology via text.
In what appeared to be the final straw, Ms Fentiman said she intervened after becoming aware of a woman who was told to come back the next day when she asked for a forensic examination at “multiple hospitals” on the same evening.
“It is unacceptable,” Ms Fentiman said.
“I have had a number of discussions and made my expectations clear about having timely, compassionate care – but clearly it is not happening.
“I do think we have a cultural problem within our hospitals that these women are not prioritised and seen in a timely way.”
Under the historic directive, all 26 reporting hospitals must have appropriate staff available to administer forensic tests in a timely manner, 24 hours a day.
Sexual assault victims who present at public emergency departments must be seen and cared for within 10 minutes where possible.
Hospital and health services will be obligated to outline what action was taken to comply with the ministerial directive in their annual reports, Ms Fentiman said.
“This is a lawful directive. If staff are not following the directive it can be used in disciplinary proceedings,” she said.
Ms Fentiman said she had met HHS bosses about the directive and “they absolutely understand that we need to do better”.
She said support and extra resources would be available to provide hospitals “whatever they need” to ensure they could follow the directive.
The minister said she was also finalising hospital guidelines for treating women who have experienced miscarriages.
Ms Fentiman had to intervene on Friday despite a 2022 Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce recommendation that rape victims receive 24/7 timely and compassionate care at emergency departments.
“To every woman who has ever had to endure this trauma and who has not received the standard of care she is entitled to through our health system, I am sorry,” she said.
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028