HEALTHY LIVING: Communication key to sexually healthy society

A patient in consultation at the Royal Hallamshire's GUM clinic.
A patient in consultation at the Royal Hallamshire's GUM clinic.
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SEXUAL health matters – that’s the message clinics and advice services in Sheffield will be sending out at a major awareness event in the city centre next weekend.

Sexually-transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies remain common in Sheffield, according to NHS figures which reveal the city has higher rates of chlamydia and gonorrhoea than many other parts of the UK.

The event is happening in Barker’s Pool, with health workers offering advice, free condoms, screening for STIs and guidance on services available locally. It is part of a drive being launched to raise awareness of the different sexual health facilities available in Sheffield.

Ann Burke, head of the Contraception and Sexual Health Service, said there is progress to be made in making local people aware of the choices on offer.

“There is still some way to go in ensuring that everyone knows which services are available across the city,” she said, adding: “It seems that the increasing use of contraceptives such as the implant are beginning to make a positive difference, particularly with younger women.”

Elsewhere, Sheffield’s Centre for HIV and Sexual Health is marking its 25th anniversary this year.

Its work involves HIV prevention, health promotion work and running training courses, which aim to reduce the prejudice and misunderstanding that surrounds the condition.

Steve Slack, the centre’s director, said: “The centre for HIV and Sexual Health has for the past 25 years ensured that sexual health promotion has remained on the city’s list of priorities and has influenced national policy.

“It is incredible to think that the centre is now celebrating 25 years of sexual health promotion work. We must continue to communicate our message that sexual health is an important aspect of everyone’s life, that prevention and promotion make economic sense as well as common sense and that comprehensive sex education and good communication are the keys to a sexually healthy society.”

Meanwhile, at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital’s Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinic, doctors are on hand to discuss people’s concerns in appointments and arrange tests. Samples are checked in dedicated laboratories, with results issued within seven days.

The GUM clinic operates on an open-access basis – meaning patients don’t have to see anyone else before they attend. Appointments are kept confidential and discussions are not shared with anyone else.

Dr Christine Bowman, clinical lead at the clinic, said: “Condoms are very effective at reducing the risk of picking up most STIs, including HIV. However, some people find it difficult to use condoms properly and consistently. Reducing the number of sexual partners and starting sexual activity at an older age are really important ways to lower the risk of picking up STIs.”

Dr Bowman added: “Many people are unaware they have an STI as some infections don’t always cause symptoms.

“This is the reason people are encouraged to have their sexual health checked out through screening tests.

“However, STIs can cause unpleasant symptoms such as pain passing urine, discharge, pain during and bleeding after sex. Untreated STIs may also lead to long term negative effects on future health, including fertility, even in people without any obvious symptoms.”

The Barker’s Pool event – called Sexual Health Saturday – is running from 10am to 5pm.

Dr Bowman said: “This year we are promoting the theme of ‘access’ to the Sheffield public. We want to show local people that there are many different ways to access sexual health checks and information in the city and to offer advice on healthy sex and relationships.

“If you are unsure about anything to do with sexual health, please come along to the event to find out what free, friendly services are available.”

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In Sheffield, more than 1,870 cases of genital warts were treated from April 2011 to April this year.

Chlamydia and genital warts account for the largest number of attendances in local sexual health services.

The Sheffield chlamydia screening programme treated 1,265 cases last year.

Poor sexual health is more common in certain communities including young people, black African communities and men who have sex with men.

Teenage pregnancy rates have fallen by 7.6 per cent in Sheffield since 1998.

The Royal Hallamshire’s GUM clinic had 28,083 attendances between April 2011 and March 2012.

Last year, around 45,000 people used the Contraception and Sexual Health Service.