Wednesday, 11 November 2009

National Chlamydia Screening Programme must continue

Today the National Audit Office has published its report on the National Chlamydia Screening Programme in England. In making its assessment of the value of the programme it charts some of the challenges of implementing a national programme when local Health Bodies have responsibility for delivery. It does say that the programme has not demonstrated value for money to date. And of course the danger is we look backwards not forward, and we lose the good news in with that headline. The report goes on to say that the programme and other sites, including GUM services are now reaching a level of testing which will begin to make a difference to the amount of chlamydia within the population. All national strategies take a while to bed down and we are now getting there - continued investment is vital if we are to build on the successes to date, and ensure that all, not just some, areas are doing excellently - every area will be doing something well and we need to escalate efforts to share best practice.

The report sets out some important areas for change to ensure that moving forward the programme makes a difference. For my money, there are some important wins some of which the NCSP are already moving forward on including providing guidance on how much a test should cost so there are not such big discrepancies between areas.

From a young people's perspective 45 brands does not make sense - we need to have one national brand, locally developed and tailored so young people really know what chlamydia is, how to prevent it and where to get tested if they need to even if they move between PCT boundaries and regions. We also need one national high quality website so young people can access tests on line. At Brook young people contact us asking how to get a kit online and I worry about the variation in quality of service young people get with our current arrangements of local websites (or indeed no websites). Given where the programme is and the way health policy has developed, I don't underestimate the challenge in national branding or a national website, but for the sake of young people and getting the best bang for our buck we must grasp the nettle.

So, when I am asked by journalists whether the NCSP should continue, yes absolutely it must. There is no doubt in my mind.

And last week Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children announced that PSHE Education will become a statutory part of the curriculum in England. For many of us, including myself this announcement is long overdue and very very welcome. I keep on pinching myself - having personally worked and campaigned for this at least a decade, along with colleagues who have been pushing even longer, this is a triumph that is a defining moment in our history. For far too long children and young people have been telling us their PSHE including learning about sex and relationships is not good enough - that it needs more time, that it needs enough interest and skill from people teaching the subject and that it needs to help them address real life dilemmas more effectively. Of course this is not the end of the journey - statutory provision is not a magic bullet or a panacea, but it is a huge step forward. I urge everyone who supports PSHE Education to contact their local MP and make sure they support the move as it makes its way through the parliamentary process. We have government commitment to the destination, now we just have to make sure we get there. There will be others who don't agree making their voices heard very loudly - we cannot afford to be complacent.

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