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RCPI Policy Group on Sexual Health

Sexual health is an important aspect of health.

It affects our physical and psychological wellbeing and is fundamental to our health and happiness.

The RCPI Policy Group on Sexual Health was established in 2010 as a multidisciplinary group advocating for the development and implementation of a national sexual health strategy.

The Group is co-chaired by Prof Colm Bergin, Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases, St James’s Hospital, Dublin and Dr Jack Lambert, Consultant Physician in Infectious Diseases, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin. 

Teens giving piggyback.

Why Did We Need to Take Action?

When the RCPI Policy Group on Sexual Health was established in 2010, there was no national strategy for the promotion and maintenance of sexual health in Ireland.

Sexual health is not merely the absence of infection, disease, dysfunction or infirmity. It is a state of general well-being (physical, emotional, mental and social) in the area of sexuality.

Protecting, supporting and restoring sexual health involves a range of sometimes overlapping healthcare services, such as dedicated STI services, family planning services, and services for victims of sexual violence.

It also requires an understanding within our society of the diversity of human nature and cultural diversity.

What Did We Call For?

The RCPI Policy Group on Sexual Health called on the Department of Health to lead a coordinated, cross-sectoral approach to sexual health, and for sexual health to be included within national public health policy.

In their Better Sexual Health for Ireland Policy Statement, published in 2012, the Policy Group specifically called for:

1. Government to develop and implement a national sexual health strategy

This strategy must be based on engagement with health, education, justice and social partners.

2. Integration of all stakeholders in the prevention of sexual ill health and the promotion of sexual health

It is important that parents and educators continue to receive appropriate support and resources for the successful implementation and further development of home and school-based sexual health programmes.

We need targeted education programmes for groups known to be at-risk of poor sexual health.

The public must have access to appropriate, accessible information to promote good sexual health.

3. Support and resources for a high quality sexual health service

Health education should involve inter-sectoral collaboration between educators and clinicians with relevant agencies, at all levels of statutory, voluntary and community settings.

There is a need to provide quality education to undergraduates and professionals involved in sexual health services.

There should be appropriate support and resources for the successful implementation of interventions known to prevent STIs, e.g. immunisation programmes and contact tracing.

There should be appropriate support and resources for the successful implementation of accessible services to ensure timely, holistic management of symptomatic and asymptomatic sexually transmitted infections.

We need a model of care that ensures people are seen at the right time, at the right place and by the right person, e.g. the ‘Hub and Spoke’ model.

Sexual Health.

What Happened Next?

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar published Ireland’s first National Sexual Health Strategy and Action Plan in October 2015.

Key measures in the Strategy include:

  • the appointment of a HSE National Clinical Lead for Sexual Health Services to ensure they are delivered to the highest clinical standards and that appropriate governance is in place
  • ensuring that everyone who works with young people including parents, teachers and youth workers has access to proper training and back-up resources
  • raising awareness of the risk of unprotected sex and the importance of early testing and treatment
  • an Action Plan comprising 18 key targets to be met before the end of 2016.

Dr Fiona Lyons has been appointed as National Clinical Lead for Sexual Health Services in Ireland. Dr Lyons is a consultant in genitourinary and HIV medicine at St James’s Hospital and spokesperson for the RCPI Policy Group on Sexual Health.

“Our goals are to expand existing services and make it easier for people to get tested, raise awareness of sexual health issues, and improve education by training teachers, youth workers and healthcare professionals.”

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar

Launch of Ireland’s first National Sexual Health Strategy and Action Plan in October 2015

National Sexual Health Awareness Week

The RCPI Policy Group on Sexual Health ran a national Sexual Health Awareness Week (SHAW) in 2012 and 2013. Both weeks featured a mix of public meetings, debates and interactive workshops.

The overall ethos of SHAW was positive, supportive and inclusive, and the range of organisations who got involved reflected this.

We were delighted to welcome the HSE Gay Men’s Health Service, the Irish Family Planning Association, the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN), the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme, AIDS West, Squashy Couch Cafe, and Foróige on board for SHAW.

“Sexual Health Awareness Week promotes the message that sexual health is not just about the prevention of crisis pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Sexual health and behaviours are a universal component of human development and wellbeing and it is central to relationship and family formation, community development and sustainability.”

Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, Director of the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme

Members of the RCPI Policy Group on Sexual Health

Dr Prof Colm Bergin St James’s Hospital GUIDE Clinic - Co-chair
Dr Jack Lambert Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and Rotunda Hospital - Co-chair
Ms Alison Begas WellWoman Centre
Ms Anita Butt Irish Family Planning Association
Dr Susan Clarke St James’s Hospital
Ms Claire Coleman Galway University Hospital
Dr Dan Corcoran Cork University Hospital
Dr Miriam Daly Irish College of General Practitioners
Ms Sandra Delamere St James’s Hospital
Dr Mary Dennehy Waterford Regional Hospital
Dr Lucinda Dockeray Dodder Park Medical Centre
Dr Maeve Eogan Rotunda Hospital
Dr Catherine Fleming Galway University Hospital
Dr Derek Freedman St James’s Hospital
Prof Mary Horgan Cork University Hospital
Ms Rachael Howard Mater Misercordiae Hospital
Ms Carmel Kelly South Eastern HSC Trust, Downe Hospital
Dr Fiona Lyons St James’s Hospital
Prof Sam McConkey Beaumont Hospital
Prof Fiona Mulcahy St James’s Hospital
Dr Austin O’Carroll Mountjoy Medical Centre
Dr Emer O’Connell Faculty of Public Health & Department of Public Health, HSE
Dr Darina O’Flanaghan Health Protection Surveillance Centre
Dr Aidan O’Hora Health Protection Surveillance Centre
Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme
Dr Say Quah Royal Victoria Hospital
Ms Rosie Toner Irish Family Planning Association