A new model for sexual health services

Borough residents are being urged to take part in a consultation about sexual health service reforms
Borough residents are being urged to take part in a consultation about sexual health service reforms

Home testing kits, online consultations and even guidance in hair salons are set to be part of sweeping sexual health service reforms.

A second public consultation period on the major revamp has started this week and health bosses are keen for residents to provide feedback on what they say is an “innovative” approach.

We’re hoping this is a bit of a game-changer

Prof Kate Ardern, director for public health

Despite funding for sexual health provision facing a 20 per cent cut, Prof Kate Ardern, the borough’s director, told the Observer she is excited about the new model.

It aims to switch from concentrating resources predominantly on treatment to focusing on prevention and early intervention.

And in taking the stigma out of sexual health, the public health team hopes attempts to promote healthy relationships will have more of an impact.

Results from an initial consultation on the principles of the reforms suggest residents think services should have a mix of centrally accessible facilities in addition to more private offerings closer to home.

These could be through more aspects being made available online - such as consultations and advice - in addition to access to home testing kits and even guidance and information, such as where the nearest clinics are, being made available in community locations such as hairdressers.

The proposals will suggest integrating aspects of the sexual health provision with the council’s start well hub system whilst maintaining its consultant led centrally based core.

Prof Ardern said: “What we’ve tended to do is concentrate on the treatment end and the genito-urinary clinic bit of the service when actually we should be much more upstream intervention about prevention and early intervention.

“We also want to take the stigma out of sexual health and promote healthy sexual relationships. Taking out the embarrassment factor is important. And in this borough we’ve got the Deal and that conversation is already set up with residents. This is an opportunity to redefine what we mean by sexual health.

“You can invest a lot of money on things like this, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you get the innovation you want to see.”

Latest figures show the borough has a high proportion of sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses in both its (16-25) and (50-59) age groups.

Meanwhile, the area has the third highest rate in the country for under 16s using the morning after pill meaning, as a result, there is a relatively low rate of abortions.

And problems, not exclusive to Wigan, with antimicrobial resistance mean viruses such as gonorrhea are becoming more prevalent.

Prof Ardern added: “We want to think outside the box, how do we use our leisure facilities, and even hairdressers.

“You often tell your hairdresser what you wouldn’t tell anyone else and having a link in there, or if a hairdresser is aware of where the nearest clinic is in their area will be helpful.

“I want to stress we’ll still have a consultation led service, you’ve got to have that with the central walk-in provision in both Wigan and Leigh. But the idea is to have seven nurse led sexual health clinics built into our primary care offer.”

The borough’s dental practices will also be encouraged to offer sexual health guidance, the proposals suggest.

With feedback on the principles of the reforms complete, Prof Ardern and colleagues are now keen to hear opinions on their proposed model for the new service.

A majority of those to respond to the first consultation were female and although those who have contributed are encouraged to do so again, the public health team would particularly like to hear from more males and older members of the LGBTQ community.

She added: “We’re actually very excited by the proposals, it’s taking sexual health out of the embarrassment box and saying this is normal, this is how we should be.

“We’re hoping this is a bit of a game-changer - not just where do we put a GUM clinic, to how do we build the sexual health service to promote healthy and enjoyable sexual relationships, as it should be.”

• To take part in the consultation visit here