A CENTRE which looks after victims of rape and sexual assault from across Lancashire has been caught in a funding row.

The Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Centre, in Preston, is a jointly funded venture between Lancashire Constabulary and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

It provides victims from across Lancashire with immediate medical help, counselling, forensic examinations and the ability to give anonymous evidence on one site, following a sexual offence.

The pioneering centre is open to women, men and children who can refer themselves or be referred by police or healthcare professionals.

It is understood both the police and hospital trust want the primary care trusts to start making financial contributions to the centre.

Currently it is funded by the police and hospital trusts.

Going forward, it is believed the police want to pay for the evidence-gathering work, the hospital for the overheads, with the PCTs meeting the healthcare costs.

But in the current financial climate affecting health trusts, this has prompted fears that the PCTs may not be able to meet the costs, putting a question mark over the centre's future.

Lancashire Police Chief Superintendent Graham Gardner said: “Lancashire Constabulary, along with its partners, is committed to the work of the SAFE Centre and to providing the best possible service for victims of sexual assault.

“We are currently in discussion with the Primary Care Trusts and other agencies with regards to how the centre operates and how it should be funded in the future.”

One officer from East Lancashire said: “We have heard we could be losing the facility, which would be a great shame.”

On behalf of Lancashire primary care trusts, a spokesman said: “I can confirm that Lancashire PCTs are in discussions with Lancashire Constabulary about the future funding arrangements of the centre.”

The Government gave the SAFE centre a share of £150,000 last year and wants a similar centre in every force area by 2011.