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Croydon teenagers to gain voice on designing their sexual health services

Croydon’s teenagers will have the opportunity to advise on how sexual health services can meet their needs, due to a report published today by Healthwatch Croydon.

Healthwatch Croydon, the local champion for better health and social care, publishes its Sexual Health Services: The Experience of Teenagers in Croydon report today, based on the experiences of over 60 teenage users of sexual health services. As a result of the recommendations, Croydon Council’s Public Health team will work with Healthwatch Croydon to gain teenagers’ views on services at a workshop later in the year.

Croydon has significant issues around the sexual health of teenagers and young people, with higher than average statistics for teenage pregnancy, repeated abortions, and diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases, according to Croydon Public Health statistics.

For Croydon’s teenagers, accessibility, advertising and awareness of services, relevant help and support and delivery of services could be better. This has an impact on Croydon’s public health strategy to improve teenage sexual health outcomes.

Issues include:

• Accessibility: Teenagers told us that there are several obstacles to accessing services, such as long waiting times, short and inconvenient opening hours and few appointments for walk-in patients, which discouraged patients from service use.

• Advertising and awareness: It was felt that there was a need for more effective advertising, with better awareness of confidential services, including in schools and colleges. Advertising has a role to play in reducing awkwardness in accessing services. Information was needed to support sensible decisions about sexual health and relationships so they can take responsibility for their health.

• Relevant help and support: Teenagers say they need the right health and support, tailored to their needs, particularly in encouraging the first visit. Fear of being judged, nervousness, awkwardness and lack of confidence are barriers to accessing services. Confidentiality is also a key issue with information being shared with parents or GPs, or an open reception area.

• Service delivery: When services went well, teenagers were seen by a health professional when they wanted to, with easy processes and the support they needed. However, services were considered to be slow in places and not always welcoming. There were concerns on how staff treated and understood teenagers, just giving them lifestyle opinions rather than understanding their needs.

Healthwatch Croydon suggests areas for consideration by health decision-makers:

• Accessibility: There needs to be faster access, with flexible services around times and locations suited to teenagers, such as evenings and weekends and more walk-in appointments. A full range of services should be available at each location, especially in places where there is a greater need for sexual health services, such as New Addington.

• Advertising and awareness: Ask teenagers for their views on advertising, and then target it in locations that are right for them. Materials need to be varied, not just online, with reassuring messaging. Focused marketing is needed to target more marginalised groups such as teenage boys, black and minority ethnic groups and non-heterosexuals.

• Relevant help and support: Sexual health services should focus on supporting teenagers to make informed choices. They need to recognise that feelings associated with seeking advice, information and treatment are reflected in the design of services, as well as ensuring confidentiality at all times.

• Service delivery: Services between providers need to be more joined up, meeting specific needs of teenagers. This includes a more welcoming environment, appropriate staffing, and positive attitude. Involving teenagers in service design will help meet these needs.

Healthwatch Croydon recommended that Croydon teenagers are invited to give their views on services to help the design of sexual health services in the borough to better meet their needs.

Jai Jayaraman, Healthwatch Croydon Chief Executive, said “Croydon has some of the most challenging statistics in London for teenage sexual health. Our report raises issues around accessibility and advertising, as well as understanding the specific needs of teenagers in using sexual health services. Before publication, we shared this report and discussed our observations with Croydon Council’s Public Health team. They have responded very positively to our considerations and a recommendation for more teenage service user involvement in designing services. As a result, we have agreed to deliver with them a joint workshop with teenagers to understand more about these issues. It is anticipated that insights from this this will deliver services reflecting teenager’s needs and, hopefully, bring better health outcomes as a result.”

Councillor Louisa Woodley, Cabinet Member for Families, Health and Social Care, said: “The findings from Healthwatch Croydon’s report will be helpful for the ongoing improvements to local sexual health services to ensure that they continue meeting users’ needs. We are in the process of redesigning services to be fully integrated and better focused on prevention and provision in the community, with the aim of having contraception and STI treatments available at all sites. We especially welcome the report’s recommendation to increase the engagement of service users with any planned changes to what’s on offer. Young people‘s views were integral to the recent cross-borough work to upgrade the Getting It On website, which supports teenagers living in south-west London with any concerns around their emotional and physical health and well-being. We look forward to working with Healthwatch Croydon and the borough’s youngsters to run a joint workshop in the coming months.”

Read coverage in the Croydon Advertiser, 8 March 2017

Read coverage in the Croydon Guardian, 9 March 2017

Read coverage in Inside Croydon, 7 March 2017