NHS Case Study

Helping NHS England monitor and improve survivor support in the east of England


Working with NHS England to review Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in the east of England. Conducting comprehensive, trauma-informed research to make recommendations that will improve survivor care and tackle access inequalities.


We were commissioned by NHS England to produce a thorough review of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in the east of England. The goal is to provide evidence-based recommendations to inform future commissioning of survivor services, help SARCs improve survivor care, respond to changing needs and tackle health inequalities.   


The research had a particular focus on the use patterns and needs of young people (aged 14 and under) and to what extent SARCs, in partnership with local authorities and clinical commissioning groups, meet that need. We also committed to looking closely at health inequalities that may affect access to SARCs.



The understanding, experience and connections to deliver thorough, unbiased research

We were well equipped to support NHS England in this evaluation thanks to our understanding of the SARC system, established connections with victims, survivors and service providers, and experience of safe and trauma-informed data gathering. 


We took a formative approach, asking: 

  1. What’s happening?
  2. What’s working?
  3. What’s the learning? 
  4. What’s next?

These questions allowed us to pinpoint best practices and recommend changes that would reduce health inequalities and improve services for survivors of sexual violence.


We began with desk research, reviewing existing data from the SARCs. From there, we created an online survey for SARC professionals, service users and the constabulary. 


To build a more comprehensive picture of outcomes for survivors, we added phone interviews to this data, held with individuals across the three stakeholder categories. 


Our assessment uncovered averages, trends and themes. We compared key user groups and pulled out individual, anonymised cases to support or refute trends and highlight consistencies as well as outlying experiences. 


We delivered conclusions in the form of user-friendly recommendations, sorted by category and priority and backed up by evidence.


Our recommendations will be tested against opposing evidence. A validation workshop with commissioners will help to further explore our findings. We will also hold a separate workshop to explore the ‘so what’ and ‘now what’ of our recommendations. 


Following this consultation period, we will deliver a final report, drawing on existing data in new ways or updating our conclusions where appropriate.


A trauma-informed approach to data gathering


When we embarked on this project, we faced a short turnaround over the summer period, when it’s usually more difficult to speak with service users and professionals. To navigate this, we offered flexible appointment times and a variety of interview formats, booking meetings as early as possible. We also took extra steps to make sure those with health issues were able to participate. 


Our data review was handled by independent investigators. We took care to eliminate unconscious and conscious bias from our questioning to guarantee the robustness of our evidence. 


We take data confidentiality very seriously and always maintained our participants’ privacy. We also made sure to record explicit consent from all participants. As we are experienced working with vulnerable people, we gathered data with sensitivity and respect, taking every possible step to avoid retraumatising survivors. This included: 

  • Using trauma-informed interviewers;
  • Allowing the interviewee to dictate the timing and format of the interview;
  • Agreeing a buzzword for the interviewer to terminate the interview with no notice;
  • Offering aftercare and follow-up support, especially for young people. 


“Great professionalism and rigour”

As the project enters the consultation stage, we were pleased to receive this testimonial from NHS England:

“NHS England (east) has engaged ICENA Consulting to undertake a piece of evaluation in relation to the service provision for sexual assault referral centres. 


ICENA has approached the work with great professionalism and rigour. As planned and agreed in advance, there have been interim meetings to discuss emerging findings and progress. All communications have been characterised by helpful and expert support from the team and I have every reason to believe that the project will be delivered to time and to budget and will provide us with the insights that are described in the brief. 


As such I am pleased to commend ICENA.”


Claire Weston 

Head of Health and Justice (East)

If you’d like to talk to ICENA about research or evaluation support for your organisation, get in touch.

Course: Introduction to Sexual and Domestic Violence (for staff)