Sexual health in Northern Ireland (NI) is poor compared with the rest of Europe with increasing incidences of sexually transmitted infections and one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. Traditionally, sexual health services have been provided in a fragmented way by a wide range of different providers but recent sexual health strategies have flagged sexual health as a key activity within the primary care setting.
The main aim of the study was to assess the sexual health promotion activities within the primary care setting across one Health and Social Services Board in NI.
A series of semi-structured interviews with both general practitioners (GPs) and practice nurses (PNs) was conducted to assess their views on the key issues in relation to sexual health in primary care. A questionnaire survey was also conducted with these health professionals to elicit information about sexual health promotion activities within the primary care setting.
The results have shown that promoting sexual health within the primary care setting is often ad hoc and often does not target the ‘at-risk’ population. As such, GPs and PNs tend not to discuss sexual health with non-heterosexual clients or those with learning disabilities due to lack of awareness and training. Health professionals feel inadequately trained to engage in effective sexual health promotion and to provide enhanced sexual health services. Personal embarrassment and lack of time were also identified as barriers for providing effective sexual health care.
Health professionals within the primary care setting require additional training to deal with the sensitive and complex issues inherent in the area of sexual health.
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