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Sam Wallace

Healthwatch Central West London works across the three boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster, providing a community voice on how health and social care services are provided in these localities.  In this month’s eFeature, Sam Wallace, Borough Manager (Hammersmith and Fulham) for Healthwatch Central West London, showcases the sexual health engagement work that has been driven by young people in these areas and describes how Healthwatch Central West London has used this work to influence commissioning decisions and shape sexual health services and sex and relationship education provision locally.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 created a network of independent local Healthwatch organisations across England to act as consumer champions for health and social care services and to feed local intelligence to a national consumer champion, Healthwatch England.

Healthwatch Central West London is the local consumer champion for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the City of Westminster. Like other local Healthwatch organisations, we work in a variety of ways to:

  • obtain the views of the wider community and make those views known to decision makers
  • promote and support the involvement of a diverse range of people in the commissioning of local health and care services
  • make reports and recommendations about how those services can be improved
  • provide information to the public about accessing health and care services
  • represent the views of the community and service users on health & wellbeing boards
  • share our views with and make recommendations to Healthwatch England and the Care Quality Commission.

Healthwatch Central West London identified poor sexual health as a key

local concern across the three boroughs. For example, Hammersmith and Fulham has the 4th highest rate of sexually transmitted infections out of 326 local authorities in England; Westminster the 10th and Kensington and Chelsea the 14th highest rate.

Added to the local picture of poor sexual health was a concern that previously commissioned sex and relationship education (SRE) provision was coming to an end with uncertainty over what would replace this. At national level concerns about SRE provision were also being raised by an OFSTED report published in May 2013, which looked across personal, health, social and economic (PSHE) education. The report indicated that in SRE too much emphasis was placed on the mechanics of reproduction rather than the importance of healthy sexual relationships, and highlighted the lack of coverage of topics such as pornography and sexuality as well as the lack of expertise among teachers in teaching sex and relationships, as areas of concern.

It was clear to us that local statutory bodies recognised the importance of addressing   sexual health and young people’s sexual health in particular. The local Health and Wellbeing Board in Hammersmith and Fulham and the Tri-Borough public health team both regarded sexual health as a key priority. This presented an opportunity for Healthwatch Central West London to support local users of sexual health services to influence future provision.

To begin the process of bringing together evidence to influence commissioners of sexual health services, a Young People and Sexual Health Project Group was set up. This gave young people, local residents and sexual health professionals an opportunity to meet regularly to discuss sexual health services for young people. The project group met four times over a year with speakers presenting on a variety of topics. It hosted discussions on a wide range of issues including access to schools for third sector sexual health services, joint working between different agencies, accurate mapping of local sexual health services and sexual exploitation and its effect on mental health and wellbeing. The project group also designed and planned a research project with the following objectives:

  • to identify what SRE young people are receiving
  • to understand how young people rate the quality and content of their SRE education
  • to identify what topics young people think SRE should cover
  • to identify how young people think SRE should engage with them
  • to identify key gaps in the knowledge of young people around sexual health and services
  • to identify where young people currently get their information about sexual health and sexual health services.

The main findings of the research project were:

  • just under a fifth of respondents (18%) said they had not received or did not know if they had received SRE
  • a strong majority of respondents (72%) want some involvement from external organisations in SRE delivery
  • respondents wanted a wide range of topics included in SRE, such as domestic abuse, emotional support, sexuality and female genital mutilation (FGM)
  • the report identified some significant gaps in respondents knowledge of sexual health services including how to access:

- free condoms (only 56% knew where to access these)
- emergency contraception (37% knew where to access this)
- support around healthy relationships and domestic abuse (22% knew where to get support on this)

The final report from the project assesses local young people’s experiences of sex and relationship education, their ideas of how they want sex and relationship education to be delivered and their knowledge of sexual health services. It also makes a series of recommendations for those engaged in commissioning and delivering sexual health services and sex and relationship education, including local public health commissioners and schools.

Healthwatch Central West London has since been able to use the evidence generated through this research to influence a number of commissioning bodies and policy making bodies, including the three health and wellbeing boards we sit on, the London Assembly Health Committee and the All Parliamentary Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health in the UK. As a result our research has played a key part in developing both our local sexual health strategy and school nursing specification.

For more information on this work contact Samuel Wallace on: sam.wallace@hestia.org or for a copy of the Healthwatch Central West London ‘Sex and Relationship Education Report’ click here

For more information on Healthwatch Central West London - healthwatchcwl.co.uk

For more information on Healthwatch England - www.healthwatch.co.uk/about-us

The content of all eFeatures represents the views and opinions of the authors.  MEDFASH does not necessarily share or endorse the views expressed within them.