A pilot pharmacy project which focuses on improving the sexual health of young women and reducing teenage pregnancy is being launched today by the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB).
The ‘Be Safe’ Belfast pilot has been developed to enable community pharmacies to provide sexual health assessment to women aged between 16 and 19 years old.
The pilot service will initially be offered in North and West Belfast. The primary aim of the service is to reduce the teenage pregnancy levels in these areas.
The good news is that rates of teenage pregnancy have decreased in Northern Ireland, including Belfast, between 2001 and 2010. However, rates in Belfast have consistently been 1.3 times higher than Northern Ireland generally, and in the most deprived areas of Belfast are twice as high as the average rate in Belfast.
The service will provide Emergency Hormonal Contraception (EHC) if needed and appropriate to do so, along with confidential advice and condoms to women aged 16 to 19 years, at no cost to the client. The pharmacist will also signpost or refer clients to services which can provide a regular method of contraception and to other sexual health services, if required, for sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing.
Speaking about the pilot project, Dr Jillian Johnston from the PHA explained the aims of the service: “The Public Health Agency wants to improve access to sexual health services for teenage women, particularly in areas of deprivation, and improve the sexual health of young people.
“We also want to encourage collaborative working between community pharmacy and other agencies working with young people.”
Deirdre Quinn, Pharmaceutical Services Lead with the Health and Social Care Board, said: “Community pharmacies are ideally placed to deliver this service, offering teenage women a completely confidential consultation without appointment in their local area. As well as offering timely access to emergency contraception, the pharmacist will use each opportunity to discuss other issues relating to sexual health, including the risks of unprotected sex and the importance of long-term contraception. They will provide each client with details of how to access the services they need at a place near to them.”
Leaflets and posters with details about the new service will be distributed in voluntary organisations, colleges, GP practices and family planning clinics. Information is also available from the new website www.besafebelfast.com