No Specialist Adult Sexual Abuse Counselling Service from 1 April

No Specialist Adult Sexual Abuse Counselling Service from 1 April: Press Release

For immediate release

Nexus, Northern Ireland’s leading sexual abuse charity, has announced that its free specialist adult counselling service is to end on 31 March.  It has been advised by the Department of Health that there are no plans to replace the existing contract for this specialist service.

As of 29 February, the charity has stopped taking referrals, as the first move to wind down the Department of Health-funded service.

The charity has contacted over 800 people on its waiting list, and almost 300 clients currently in counselling to notify them.

Nexus has made a commitment to ensure all clients currently in receipt of individual counselling or group support will complete their therapeutic journey, even if this goes beyond the end of March. 

Nexus CEO, Joanne Barnes said,  

“It is extremely disappointing that this specialist service is coming to an end and that there is no direct replacement planned.  

“For now, our main focus is on continuing to support those who are already receiving counselling and ensuring that they can complete their therapeutic journey and recovery. We want to stress that their service will not be impacted.

“However, we are very concerned for the 800 individuals currently on our waiting list who, regrettably, may not be able to benefit from the specialist support they require. 

“It’s especially worrying when we know that many of our service users will have waited until, what they felt was, the right time, to take that initial brave step to seek support.  This could be extremely detrimental to their mental health, and many of our clients have told us how the service has quite literally saved their life.”

Specialist Staff

The Nexus Chief Executive has also highlighted concerns over the loss of specialist expertise in this highly sensitive area.

Joanne Barnes continued,

“The clinicians who have delivered the Nexus service for five years are part of a very niche and small group of counsellors who are specialists in this very sensitive area. This service requires dedicated expertise, experience and understanding of the particular needs of those who have experienced sexual violence or abuse.  We would worry that their expertise could now be lost either to the private sector or to other regions where their experience will be in demand.” 

Unsatisfactory Continuity Arrangements

The charity has been advised by the Department of Health that support for those impacted by sexual abuse would be offered via GP referral to general mental health services.  Nexus says that these continuity arrangements are unsatisfactory. 

Joanne Barnes said, 

“Referral into the general mental health system, and access via a GP appointment, is clearly not a satisfactory way forward for this service, not least because of the known long wait times for these services and because GPs and mental health practitioners often refer to Nexus as the specialist service.  Referring anyone who has experienced sexual abuse to a general mental health service would be treating the symptoms rather than the cause. 

“A failure to provide specialist support when and how it is needed will have a devastating impact on those affected by sexual abuse.”

Health Minister

Nexus has contacted the Health Minister, the First and Deputy First Minister as the lead department on the Violence against Women and Girls Framework, and other elected representatives, including members of the Health Committee to share the charity’s concerns for the future of the service. 

Joanne Barnes concluded,

“This decision contradicts recent commitments to a Women’s Health Action Plan, the revised Domestic and Sexual Abuse Strategy 2023-2030 and the 7 year Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Strategic Framework. These are key policy positions which we would hope might inform the continuity of this specialist provision. 

“People impacted by sexual abuse deserve better.

“We will continue to work with Health Minister Swann and elected representatives to find a resolution to allow appropriate continuity of this specialist service, at least until a new contract is specified and procured. 

“This service must not come to an abrupt end on 31 March 2024.” 


Notes to editors: 

  • For further information or to bid for an interview please contact Patrice Morris, the Communications and Engagement Lead on 07738983590, or email: or
  • Nexus is Northern Ireland’s leading charity supporting people impacted by sexual abuse and abusive relationships. If you need advice or support, call the 24hr Domestic and Sexual Abuse Helpline on 0808 802 1414, it is available 24/7 for any individual impacted by domestic or sexual abuse, either directly or indirectly. Webchat and email services are also available on and The DSA Helpline is hosted by Nexus on behalf of the Departments of Communities, Health and Justice. 


Numbers affected:

  • Nexus currently has 806 people waiting to be assessed or to start counselling
  • There are currently 280 existing clients receiving ongoing counselling (whose counselling will be seen through to completion, even if beyond 31 March)
  • Nexus receives approximately 175 new referrals per month 
  • Many of the 175 new referrals per month self-refer directly to the charity’s confidential service.
  • Today’s news will mark the end of a five-year contract delivered by Nexus on behalf of the Health and Social Care Board and subsequently the Department of Health. 
  • The charity has provided counselling to around 7,000 individuals impacted by sexual abuse over the course of its 5-year contract.
  • It is estimated that 1 in 4 women, 1 in 18 men, and 1 in 6 children are impacted by sexual abuse. 
  • 80% of Nexus Clients identified as female (23/24 so far)
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