A new student sexual health service was launched today, Wednesday, Feb 16, at the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) in Athlone, coinciding with SHAG week - a national event intended to raise sexual health awareness.
Available to students by self-referral, the facility is free and offers a comprehensive range of services, including the full testing and treatment of STIs, vaccinations, contraception advice, pregnancy testing, PEPSE/PREP, health promotion, condoms and information resources.
These specialised services are typically provided in a hospital setting; however, as Athlone is without a hospital, students were having to travel significant distances to access care, explained Nurse Laura Tully, who is the service’s project lead.
“Students previously faced travel times of up to one hour to a specialised clinic and cited barriers to attending, such as fear of stigma, travel time, costs and time missed from college, as reasons not to attend,” she said. “This service is removing all those barriers for students, ensuring they can get the right care in the right place by the right people.”
Based on a hugely successful Sláintecare-funded pilot service launched by Laura and her team in January 2020, TUS Midlands has been awarded annual funding of €102,412 by the Department of Health (administered by the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme) to fund its student sexual health service on a permanent basis.
Data from the pilot service shows it substantially reduced the medical, non-medical and economic costs associated with STIs and helped address the general upward trend in STI notifications seen nationally.
A 1,113% increase in the number of students attending the TUS Midlands Student Health Service was recorded, with 51% disclosing that they had never before attended a sexual health screening.
“This initiative is having a huge impact on the daily lives of students. It has been the highlight of my 22-year career in nursing to have been afforded the opportunity to deliver this vital service,” Nurse Laura said, adding, “It is a wonderful and proud feeling to leave work each day knowing that the service and care which you are providing is making a real and tangible difference to the lives of so many.”
Used as a model of best practice for community-based healthcare across both the technological higher education and primary care sector, this is the first fully integrated sexual health, contraception and health promotion service available to students on campus.
Dr Thomas Walsh, who provides clinical leadership, governance and oversight to the TUS Midlands’ nursing team, as well as specialised care during on-campus clinics, emphasised its importance.
“This is an invaluable service for TUS students, providing important sexual health and contraceptive care as well as vital education without cost, in a space that is easily accessed, where students feel comfortable,” he said.
Welcoming the funding, Frances O'Connell, VP of Student Education and Experience for all of the six TUS’s campuses, said, “We are delighted to now be able to offer this invaluable facility to students on a permanent basis on the Midlands campus thanks to the success of the pilot scheme run by Laura and her team. The introduction of this new service to our students provides a one-stop-shop in our new, on-campus TUS Midlands Health Centre to address holistically all of their health concerns including clinical, mental and sexual health."
"This is very important to me in my role as Vice President for Student Education and Experience as the concerns that students would have about their health can have a direct impact on their ability to engage in their academic work. By having the sexual service now on our Athlone campus our students can access this free sexual health service that is available to all registered students by self-referral, regardless of sex, age, ethnic origin and sexual orientation during the academic term. Such service provision I hope adds to the positive experience our students have as part of our TUS learning community."
Students can make an appointment with the student sexual health service here; this a completely confidential, non-judgemental and professional service.
The new service is aligned to the HSE Midlands Regional Hospital Mullingar GUM/STI service under the clinical governance of Dr Dominic Rowley, a consultant in genitourinary medicine (sexual health and HIV).