Research and Technology

05.02.19

How are we protecting the nation’s sexual health?

Most people become sexually active between the ages of 16 and 24. Without the right advice and measures to ensure good sexual health and wellbeing, this can lead to unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, writes Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE.

 

Sexual health goes beyond the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is an important part of a person’s physical, emotional, mental, and social wellbeing.  

NICE has played a key role in setting standards for good sexual health. In 2005, NICE published its first sexual health guideline on long-acting reversible contraception. Since then, NICE has produced a whole suite of evidence-based products: seven guidelines; five quality standards; and two interventional procedures.

To show how NICE’s work in this priority area is making a difference, we’ve just produced an impact report on sexual health. As well as showing where we’ve made progress, it also helps to identify areas for improvement.

One area the report considers is contraception. Teenage pregnancies and abortion rates have fallen in the last decade, which is very positive news, possibly because of the wider choice of contraceptive methods and awareness of how to use them effectively. Between 1998 and 2016, conceptions in women under 18 fell by 60%. However, the story isn’t consistent, and data from the Office for National Statistics indicates that rates of under 18 pregnancy vary between local authorities.

Public Health England’s (PHEs) teenage pregnancy prevention framework includes a list of risk factors that are associated with women who are more likely to get pregnant before the age of 18. This includes women who are looked after or leaving care, or those who have experienced a previous pregnancy. NICE’s guideline, referenced in this framework, recommends that additional support should be offered in these situations. This may include one-to-one sexual health advice on all methods of contraception, and on how to prevent STI’s or unwanted pregnancies.

Supporting women to make an informed choice about contraception after childbirth helps to reduce the risk of future unplanned pregnancies. NICE recognised this as a high-priority area for improvement, stating that women should be offered a choice of all contraceptive methods by their midwife within 7 days of having their baby. In 2013, 2015 and 2017, around 90% of women said they have been given information or advice about contraception after childbirth. But with one in 10 women not receiving this support, more work still needs to be done.

In recent years, the number of newly diagnosed STIs has levelled off – but unfortunately there has been a concurrent rise in the number of antimicrobial resistant infections. Partner notification is essential to break the ‘chain’ of transmission. NICE’s guideline recommends that people with a diagnosed STI should be provided with the support to get their sexual partners tested and treated. Data from the NCSP audit report found that in 2017, 94% of people diagnosed with chlamydia had a documented offer of partner notification. Despite this, only 31% of people’s partners attended a sexual health service.

Increasing the uptake of HIV testing is the spotlight of our impact report. Most people who get HIV won’t experience symptoms for many years after the initial infection, which can lead to late diagnosis with poorer treatment outcomes and the increased risk of onward transmission.

With this in mind, NICE published a guideline and quality standard to help increase the uptake of HIV testing. According to PHE’s HIV testing in England report (2017), 84% of people who attended a sexual health service were offered a HIV test. This testing led to 2,323 diagnoses.

However, the overall late HIV diagnosis rate has remained at over 40% for the past five years for people aged 15-years-old and above in the UK. There can be a stigma and fear around having a HIV test, so we need to get to a point where HIV testing is seen as routine practice.

As our report demonstrates, accessible information and services are key to empowering people to make their own decisions about their sexual health. We need to keep up the momentum to ensure those most at risk of unintended pregnancies and STIs get the right support at the right time. 

To access the full sexual health report, please go to the NICE website.

 

Enjoying NHE? Subscribe here to receive our weekly news updates or click here to receive a copy of the magazine!

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

national health executive tv

more videos >

latest healthcare news

Private mental health group The Priory fined £300,000 over death of 14-year-old girl

17/04/2019Private mental health group The Priory fined £300,000 over death of 14-year-old girl

Private mental health group The Priory healthcare group has been fined £300,000 for breaching health and safety laws following the death of... more >
Routine breech scans could lower mother and baby mortality rates and save NHS money, researchers say

17/04/2019Routine breech scans could lower mother and baby mortality rates and save NHS money, researchers say

Scanning mothers-to-be late in their pregnancy could prevent 15,000 unexpected breech births, 4,000 emergency C-sections, and the deaths of up to... more >
City council rejoins ICS after reforms agreed in privatisation and accountability row

17/04/2019City council rejoins ICS after reforms agreed in privatisation and accountability row

Nottingham City Council is to rejoin its local NHS integrated care system (ICS) after significant reforms were made to the way the system runs in... more >

editor's comment

25/09/2017A hotbed of innovation

This edition of NHE comes hot on the heels of this year’s NHS Expo which, once again, proved to be a huge success at Manchester Central. A number of announcements were made during the event, with the health secretary naming the second wave of NHS digital pioneers, or ‘fast followers’, which follow the initial global digital exemplars who were revealed at the same show 12 months earlier.  Jeremy Hunt also stated th... read more >

last word

Hard to be optimistic

Hard to be optimistic

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, warns that we must be realistic about the very real effects of continued underfunding across the health service. It’s now bey... more > more last word articles >

the scalpel's daily blog

Our Health Heroes

16/04/2019Our Health Heroes

Dean Royles, strategic workforce advisor at Skills for Health and co-author of ‘An Introduction to Human Resource Management,’ discusses the upcoming Our Health Heroes Awards. There are many metaphors to describe staff working in healthcare. Junior doctors have been described as the ‘backbone’ of the NHS, nurses ar... more >
read more blog posts from 'the scalpel' >

comment

Turning blue lights green

11/04/2019Turning blue lights green

Polly Billington, director of UK100, a cities network that campaigns on environmental issues, argues that the NHS needs a national strategy for a... more >
Going back to school at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

10/04/2019Going back to school at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Steve Hams, director of quality and chief nurse at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (GHFT), demonstrates how cultural change has im... more >
How the new nursing associate role will break new ground

10/04/2019How the new nursing associate role will break new ground

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, introduces us to the new nursing associate role, and how it’s set to complement the NHS L... more >
A smarter approach to tackling AMR

10/04/2019A smarter approach to tackling AMR

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is estimated to cause 700,000 deaths each year globally. This could rise to 10 million by 2050 if we do nothing. B... more >

interviews

How can winter pressures be dealt with? Introduce a National Social Care Service, RCP president suggests

24/10/2018How can winter pressures be dealt with? Introduce a National Social Care Service, RCP president suggests

A dedicated national social care service could be a potential solution to surging demand burdening acute health providers over the winter months,... more >
RCP president on new Liverpool college building: ‘This will be a hub for clinicians in the north’

24/10/2018RCP president on new Liverpool college building: ‘This will be a hub for clinicians in the north’

The president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has told NHE that the college’s new headquarters based in Liverpool will become a hu... more >
Duncan Selbie: A step on the journey to population health

24/01/2018Duncan Selbie: A step on the journey to population health

The NHS plays a part in the country’s wellness – but it’s far from being all that matters. Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Pu... more >
Cutting through the fake news

22/11/2017Cutting through the fake news

In an era of so-called ‘fake news’ growing alongside a renewed focus on reducing stigma around mental health, Paul Farmer, chief exec... more >

health service focus

View all News