Monday, 21 May 2012

The National Condom Week challenge, JLS and visiting Brook in Salford

I think National Condom Week was launched in 1996, my first year as a full time, paid employee working in sexual health. If not 96, it was 97 and generally condoms were even less of an everyday conversation than they are now, and far far away from how much of an everyday conversation they should be.

Over the last 5 years or so I have  set a National Condom Week challenge to health professionals and all of us determined to empower young people and protect their sexual rights. The challenge is to say the word condoms in as many different contexts as possible, even where it does not make sense to do so.  Whatever the question, condom is the answer.  Befuddled faces and questions of why this answer can easily be explained when people know it is NCW.

So far I have had feedback that it has made teams of people laugh throughout the day, created useful conversations, and made others want to punch me.  As a challenge it seems it is doing its job, and therefore it would be wrong not to issue the challenge again this year.  So my challenge to you is: for at least one day through NCW get (discussions about) condoms into as many answers to questions and discussions as you can.  And if you choose to accept the challenge do let me know of any interesting stories and experiences that come out of it either on this blog or via twitter @simonablake

Yesterday to mark the launch of National Condom Week, boy band JLS teamed up with Durex and MTV to visit some sexual health projects.  Brook services in Salford was one of those, and teams of staff from Oldham, Wirral and Salford showed Marvin, Oritse, JB and Aston the type of education and clinical work staff and young peer educators do - from wearing the beer goggles, witnessing the rubber relay to finding out about sexually transmitted infections it was a really fun morning where the Brook teams showed off their creativity, skill and commitment to working with young people. I was incredibly proud of the team, all of whom told me they found the boys interested in them and what they do, interesting, easy to talk to and a real pleasure to spend time with.

And that has been true of every single experience of JLS throughout the last couple of years we have worked together - they are genuinely committed to, and interested in the issues - so when the journalist from the Manchester Evening News asked how important they are as role models for young people, I agreed they are undoubtedly so.  And they are also role models for other adults - both celebrities and the 'rest of us'.  In their groundbreaking support for young people's sexual health JLS are paving a way for other celebrities to take young people's sexual health seriously, and use their roles to champion the issue.  At the same time they are helping break down the barriers that mean the average person on the street can be freed from embarrassment and shame and start talking about relationships, sex and sexuality so as a country we continue to get better and better at supporting children through puberty, adolescence and into adulthood.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Opinion piece in The Times today - should chemists give the pill to under-16s?

There is an opinion piece from me in The Times today, but I know not everyone has a subscription so I thought I’d replicate our view here. There is also an opposing view from Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust. You can read both pieces in today’s The Times – it’s on page 5 of the newspaper - as well as on the online paid for service.

I’ve heard a lot of nonsense over the last few days from people who haven’t been paying attention. Perhaps, then, I should start with what this proposal is not and cannot be. Even as a currently unpiloted proposal it is not about ‘dishing out’ pills alongside deodorant to every 13 year old setting foot inside their local pharmacy. No right minded person would support that, and it is not what is proposed here.

No, what has been boldly suggested is that there may be some pharmacies where it might be appropriate to deliver wider contraceptive services to some under 16s. That’s a long way from some of the hysteria the proposal has been subject to.

The majority of young people under 16 are not having sex and the numbers of 13 year olds having sex remains very small. We know the younger a young person is when they first have sex, the more vulnerable they already are. It is right, therefore, that we make sure those young people get the very best support we can give if they are thinking about or having sex. We must ensure all young people trust and access high quality professional help and the right services when they need to.

Helping young people understand their sexual choices and take responsibility for their sexual health cannot be reduced to a 30 second chat over the counter. There are clear guidelines that any professional considering providing contraception to a young person must follow and criteria based in law that the young person must meet in order to receive treatment. Qualified professionals – doctor, nurse or pharmacist – must talk to the young person about why they are thinking about having sex, whether this is the right time for them, and whether there is an adult they can trust and talk to. They talk to them about their partner, their history, and ensure that they really understand the implications of having sex and using contraception. If the professional feels the young person is not mature enough to consent or understand the treatment then they will not provide contraception.

Extending the provision of the contraceptive pill in some suitable pharmacies to some 13-16 year olds may be one of the ways to improve young people’s access to supportive services, however there are a range of vital safeguards that must be must be in place first.
Brook would want to make sure several key questions were answered:

• Has the pharmacist had appropriate clinical training to ensure the consultation will be safe?
• Has the pharmacist had training in working with vulnerable young people?
• Do they have time to develop a trusting relationship and will the young person feel able to share their concerns and confidences?
• Is there an appropriate, confidential space for the pharmacist to spend time listening to and speaking with the young person?

If we can be sure that the answers to these questions are a confident ‘Yes’ we may want to consider pharmacy provision for under-16s.