Memories of a holiday you cannot ignore

As Sexual Health Awareness Week begins today, Health Reporter JANE PICKEN speaks to the experts about staying safe this summer whether you’re on holiday or at home

As Sexual Health Awareness Week begins today, Health Reporter JANE PICKEN speaks to the experts about staying safe this summer whether you’re on holiday or at home

SUN, sea and sand may be the first things on the minds of excited young holidaymakers, but medics are urging them to think twice about romantic trysts in a foreign land.

Thousands in the North East are expected to pack their flip-flops and sun cream and fly off to exotic locations this summer, and with holiday destinations becoming more unusual, the risks to sexual health could be even greater.

Countries in south east Asia, as well as China, are fast becoming hotspots for HIV infections, and some eastern European countries are finding their infection rates are creeping up.

But there are simple steps which can be taken to minimise the risk and maximise the fun on holiday.

Diana Mansour, head of the contraception and sexual health service in Newcastle, said: “The best way to be safe is not to do anything abroad which you wouldn’t do at home.

“Often when people are on holiday they lose their heads and think things are different in another country – but in fact people might be exposing themselves to more risks.

“Different parts of the world have higher incidence of more complicated sexually-transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and HIV, but the people who are most at risk are those who go abroad and don’t think twice.”

Over the summer months the numbers of people seeking testing for STDs increase at clinics like the GUM – genito-urinary medicine – department in Newcastle.

But any unwanted holiday souvenirs can be avoided by using a condom and keeping your head by not getting too drunk.

“I’d think many times over before sleeping with someone on holiday,” said Dr Mansour.

“The things we worry about are HIV and herpes.

“Once you’ve got them both you can’t get rid of them, only keep them under control.”

Essential items to pack should always be contraceptive pills and plenty of condoms – but if these are left behind in a last-minute rush, holiday destinations will have their own services which can be used. And it is worth checking where the local pharmacies and surgeries are, just in case.

“Many people don’t know that if you go to a pharmacy abroad you can often buy another packet of pills or get emergency contraception over the counter,” said Dr Mansour, who is based at Newcastle General Hospital’s GUM clinic.

“There is easy help on hand in most European countries, or in this country doctors and family planning clinics are quite happy to give out extra supplies of pills or condoms if people are going on holiday.”

Medics have noticed the number of unplanned pregnancies soar in September and October, as people discover their holiday fling has left them with more than just a happy memory.

“If something goes wrong on holiday people often feel there’s nowhere to go, so they don’t seek help,” said Dr Mansour. “But even asking a hotel rep could help because they know how to access services.”

For those staying at home, there are now a large number of pharmacies across Tyneside helping to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies in young people by offering emergency hormonal contraception.

Community pharmacies in North Tyneside have now become involved in the scheme, known as Plan B, and can give the morning-after pill to worried young women.

The pill, which can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, will be given after a short and confidential consultation with a community pharmacist in a private consulting room. Just one of the pharmacies offering the pill is the Alliance Pharmacy in Longbenton.

Pharmacist Matthew Stuckey said: “Plan B is jut one of the services being offered by community pharmacists.

“We know that people want more healthcare services closer to home, and community pharmacists are very well placed to help people with a wide range of medical conditions and can give advice.”

Prof Vivien Hollyoak, North Tyneside’s director of public health, points out: “As the name suggests, the emergency contraception pill is for emergencies only and does not replace using a planned contraceptive.

“However, mishaps do happen and it’s important that young people know there’s easily accessible help available for them to stop them becoming pregnant.

“Plan B makes better use of NHS resources with the support of pharmacists who are based at the heart of local communities.

“They have a key role to help reduce the number of unplanned teenage pregnancies by giving better access to the Plan B scheme.”

Some pharmacies in Newcastle also offer free emergency hormonal contraception.

To find out where your nearest Plan B pharmacy is, contact NHS Direct on 0845 4647 or look out for the Plan B sign displayed in pharmacies and health centres.

For advice on sexual health, contact the Family Planning Association on 0845 310 1334 or visit www.fpa.org.uk

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Taking care of sexual health

A CENTRE in North Shields is providing a one-stop shop for people to take care of their sexual health.

The One to One Centre in Hawkeys Lane is unique to Tyneside and aims to provide a range of services, including contraception, screening for infections, diagnosing pregnancy and doing cervical smears alongside advice, support and education for all age groups.

All this can be done for a patient by one healthcare practitioner, meaning people do not need to book a number of appointments.

The service is open six days a week and from Monday to Thursday the centre is open until 7.30pm. In October the service will be moving to Brenkley Avenue, Shiremoor.

For more information, call the centre on (0191) 219 6610 or speak to a health adviser on (0191) 259 2519.

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Chemists offering the morning after pill

Asda Pharmacy, Hollywood Avenue, Gosforth. Tel: (0191) 213 4317.

Farah Chemist, 44 Adelaide Terrace, Benwell. Tel: (0191) 273 8415.

Saxon Chemist, 33-35 Heaton Road, Heaton. Tel: (0191) 276 6626.

Superdrug Pharmacy, 46-52 Northumberland Street, Newcastle. Tel (0191) 232 4308.

Alliance Pharmacy, 11 Church Walk, Walker. Tel (0191) 262 3822.

Medicentre Chemist, 117 Grainger Street, Newcastle. Tel (0191) 232 4929.

Henderson Pharmacy, 293-295 Chillingham Road, Heaton. Tel (0191) 265 0553.

Healthcare Plus Pharmacy, 3 Tyne View, Lemington. Tel (0191) 267 4319.

Lloyds Pharmacy, 168 West Road, Newcastle. Tel: (0191) 273 5589.

Boots the Chemist, 2-4 Sidgate, Eldon Square. Tel: (0191) 232 4423.

Boots the Chemist, Hotspur Way, Eldon Square. Tel: (0191) 232 9844.

St Anthony’s Pharmacy, St Anthony’s Road, Walker. Tel: (0191) 219 6109.

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Sexual health training

A NEW study has revealed a lack of training is preventing practice nurses from delivering crucial sexual health and contraception advice.

The survey, by condom makers Durex, revealed more than two thirds of practice nurses say they do not proactively ask their patients about their sexual health or contraceptive needs because they have not been trained to do so.

Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence maintain practice nurses should be on the frontline of delivering sexual health advice to patients.

Nearly all nurses who were questioned for the survey said training should be made available to practice nurses and, of this, 69% said more formal training and safer sex literature would aid them in the delivery of sexual health and contraception advice.

Tina Bishop, a member of the Royal College of Nursing Practice Nurse Association Steering Committee, said: “Practice nurses have a key role to play in delivering sexual health and contraception advice in their clinics.

“But this survey appears to show that they are not receiving the vital training that is necessary to ask a patient about their sexual health.

“Up-to-date training is a core component of a nurse’s skills and competencies and can boost the confidence of a nurse so they feel able to ask about sensitive subjects such as sexual health”.

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Project aims to reduce teen pregnancies

A PROJECT is helping to reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies in Newcastle.

The Teenage Kicks project provides informal sex and relationship education to young people across the city, through health and youth workers.

Sessions are held in schools and youth centres and are aimed at encouraging teenagers to take steps to avoid becoming pregnant.

The project is also working towards reducing the number of young people getting sexually transmitted infections by improving knowledge and understanding around this issue.

“It’s really important that young people have the knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions about sex and relationships,” said Clara Shield, Teenage Kicks team leader.

“Teenage Kicks is about providing useful information to groups of young people in an informal and comfortable environment.

“We’ve already held a number of sessions in youth centres across Newcastle and many more are planned over the next few months.”

The project is jointly run by Newcastle City Council and Newcastle Primary Care Trust. To find out more, contact the team on (0191) 220 5738 or visit www.yourteenagekicks.com

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