Dona Milne: Sexual health service must meet young people’s needs

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We all want our young people to grow up healthy and have relationships that are consensual, equal and based upon respect.

Supporting young people to achieve this goal is an important role for parents, teachers, health and youth workers and one that NHS Lothian is committed to helping provide.

That is why we have created a new sexual health service for young people that has been specifically shaped with their views and feedback to ensure it meets their needs.

Based at the recently modernised Chalmers Centre, the Healthy Respect Plus service will provide a dedicated young person friendly service every afternoon from Monday to Friday. It will be open until 7.30pm Monday to Thursday. Our goal is to increase our services in other parts of Lothian too.

The service will take a holistic approach to young people’s health and wellbeing and will include discussions on emotional health and wellbeing, alcohol and drugs. The service will also provide improved access to the full range of contraception and sexual health testing. It will be run by a range of staff from the NHS and other services such as Caledonia Youth.

So far the feedback has been really positive. Young people asked us to provide an online virtual tour of the service so they had an idea of what it looks like before they arrive and an upgrade to our website to provide on-the-spot information.

We know that the majority of young people don’t have sex until they are over the age of 16 (only 30 per cent have sex before 16 and most of these are at age 15) and many delay their first sexual experience until much older.

For those who do have sex under the age of 16, sometimes it is a one-off experience that is not repeated until they are older and for others it is something they embark on as part of an ongoing relationship, and is a very positive experience.

There are of course also a small number who will not have consented to sexual activity and who will require a higher level of support.

We hope through our education work that we will reduce the number of young people who feel pressured into doing something they don’t want to and that we send out a clear message that pressuring someone into doing anything they don’t want to is unacceptable.

Young people are happy to talk about sex and relationships and have told us they value services which treat them with respect and recognise they are capable of making their own decisions about sex and relationships.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the young people who have contributed to the service development and we look forward to working with them to provide a high quality service.

Dona Milne is Deputy Director of Public Health and Health Policy at NHS Lothian