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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 July 2007, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Sexual health treatment 'in days'
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Under-24 year olds should be tested for chlamydia
Anyone with serious sexual health problems should be referred for treatment within 48 hours, under a series of new health standards.

The draft guidelines also include recommendations that women should be offered abortions quickly.

They have been created by NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, for use in specialist clinics.

The 12 proposed standards, with health authorities targets, will now undergo a consultation process.

The new standards mostly set out deadlines for action and minimum thresholds to be met by health boards and others.

People have got to take more responsibility for their own sexual health and have to think about ways of protecting themselves
Dr Rak Nandwani
Sexual Health Standards

They state that anyone with serious symptoms or needing urgent care should be seen within two days of initial contact.

These priority patients include those with an acute sexually-transmitted infection, women seeking emergency contraception or termination of pregnancy, victims of assault, and those under 16 years old.

Most women seeking to have a pregnancy terminated should have the procedure before reaching 10 weeks of gestation.

The standards also state that 10% of women of reproductive age - rising to 15% by the end of 2010 - should be prescribed intrauterine and implantable contraceptives, said to be more effective than other methods of contraception.

Sexually active under-24-year-olds should be tested for chlamydia, according to the new standards.

The NHS Quality Improvement Scotland document warns that the sexually-transmitted disease is "highly prevalent", with nearly 18,000 cases diagnosed in 2006, mostly in people under 25.

'Facts not fantasy'

While sexual health services in Scotland have been cost-effective in treating large numbers of patients at low cost, the services have often been poorly developed, and suffered under-investment and lack of leadership, according to the document.

It states that Scotland has poor sexual health with a rising incidence of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, and some of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.

No matter how widely, easily or speedily available so-called Sexual Health Services are made all the evidence suggests they have no impact
Catholic Church spokesman

It also notes that sexual health is generally worse in areas where people are poorer.

Dr Rak Nandwani, the clinical advisor for the Sexual Health Standards, said it was possible for clinics to predict when their services would be most in demand.

"We do get our up times, like bank holidays, weekends, around Christmas time and after Valentine's Day," he said.

"People have got to take more responsibility for their own sexual health and have to think about ways of protecting themselves."

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland criticised what he described as "redundant ideals".

He said: "The same points were incorporated into the executive strategy in 2004 and are simply being repeated.

"They did not work then, they will not work now. No matter how widely, easily or speedily available so-called Sexual Health Services are made all the evidence suggests they have no impact.

Advocacy group

"These are the redundant ideas of an ideological mantra. Policy must be based on facts not fantasy, empirical evidence not theory."

NHS Quality Improvement Scotland said the director of the Catholic Education Service had been on the advocacy group which formulated advice on personal protection and sexual well-being, contained in the report.

Dr Nandwani said: "NHS Quality Improvement is taking a grown-up approach by recognising what is already happening in the real world.

"As health boards work towards achieving these sexual health standards, it is likely that more sexually transmitted infections will be diagnosed that would otherwise be left untreated and that unwanted pregnancy can be minimised whilst the Scottish Executive takes forward ways to address social deprivation which is the driver of poor sexual health.

"I have no doubt that these new standards will improve the deal which patients get from the NHS."

A clinical advisor speaks about the draft standards

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