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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Too few nurses to cope with STIs
The RCN says demand for the new course is high
A lack of specially-trained nurses is hampering efforts to tackle the sexual health crisis, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

The number of people being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection is at record levels. In many areas the NHS is struggling to cope with demand.

The RCN is setting up a new training programme to give more nurses the skills to treat and advise on STIs.

Beverly Malone, its general secretary, said it would improve patient care.

Rising rates

Figures released by the Health Protection Agency in July showed that the number of people being diagnosed with an STI in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is continuing to rise.

Cases of chlamydia - the most common STI - jumped by 9% last year. The number of people who were told they had syphilis increased by 28%.

This distance learning programme will enable nurses to respond sensitively and effectively to queries from patients
Teenage Pregnancy Unit
Overall, 708,083 people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were diagnosed with an STI in 2003.

The number of people turning up at NHS sexual health clinics has also soared in recent years.

A recent report from the Terrence Higgins Trust suggested some patients are waiting up to six weeks to be seen.

According to the RCN, many nurses in other parts of the NHS are now finding themselves having to give advice or treat people with STIs.

"With the rise in sexually transmitted infections, HIV and high rate of teenage pregnancies, many nurses now find themselves faced with having to give sexual health advice and care on a daily basis in various settings from GP practices to Accident and Emergency departments," said Ms Malone.

The RCN is now offering nurses a long distance learning course to enable them to improve their skills in sexual health.

"This course will bridge the gap between obvious clinical need and the nursing ability to meet it," said Ms Malone.

"This nursing intervention is a positive step forward to help meet some of the goals to reduce the UK's number of teenage and unplanned conceptions as well as in the prevention, assessment and referral or treatment of clients with sexual infections."

The course is being funded by the Teenage Pregnancy Unit at the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health.

"Nurses have huge potential to provide young people with the knowledge and skills they need to make safe and responsible choices about their sexual health," said a spokesperson for the Teenage Pregnancy Unit.

"This distance learning programme will enable nurses to respond sensitively and effectively to queries from patients."


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