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A recent survey of 5000 patients at HealthExpress.co.uk has identified several densely populated areas, such as Birmingham and East London, as high-risk areas for STIs, with 18-25 year olds most likely to be infected.
Despite various national and regional campaigns aimed at improving resources and awareness around sexual health, our statistics on patient consultations and orders for STI medication suggest that some young people continue to be careless when it comes to safe sex.
Here at HealthExpress, we used our data to highlight the regions in Britain that are particularly vulnerable to sexual health problems.
HealthExpress Medical Advisor, Dr Hilary Jones, said of the findings:
"The high uptake of patient consultations by 18-25 year olds is very worrying. It would appear that in certain areas of the country, more could be done to warn young people about risks to their sexual health. Fortunately, most STIs can be easily treated or even cured with medications. The most commonly reported STIs are chlamydia, gonorrhoea and genital warts. It is essential that young people are aware of the symptoms of these conditions, as well as the importance of seeking treatment."
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"The high uptake of patient consultations by 18-25 year olds is very worrying. It would appear that in certain areas of the country, more could be done to warn young people about risks to their sexual health." Dr Hilary Jones
According to the data, Birmingham had the highest number of people seeking STI treatment at 142 patient consultations, closely followed by East London, which accounted for 129. One university that is making positive efforts to protect the sexual health of its students is the University Of East London (UEL). A spokesperson from UEL informed us of their work in this area:
"UEL views sexual health as a major aspect of health and wellbeing on campus. Our staff offers professional advice, information and support on sexual health and relationships. We also promote safe sex, sexual health tests, pregnancy tests, and referrals to external services for further services if needed."
With 127 patient consultations, the city and surrounding areas of Glasgow were third on our list of STI hotspots, according to our data. A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow reinforced the necessity for students to embrace the sexual health services available to them:
"Student welfare is one of our highest priorities at the University of Glasgow. We work closely with our Student's Representative Council (SRC) and our on-campus GP practice at the Barclay Medical Centre to deliver the best healthcare facilities possible and promote good sexual health among our students."
"We have a project called 'Welfare Wednesdays' where students can collect freebies and speak to one of our welfare support partners." Hallam Union
When looking closer at regional statistics, HealthExpress also identified Sheffield as as an at-risk area, with almost the same number of consultations (101) sought for STIs as from people in Leeds (68) and Doncaster (46) combined.
Welfare officer, Emmet Cleaver, was happy to tell us about Sheffield Hallam Union's various awareness campaigns to improve the sexual health of students.
"At Hallam Union most of our work is a joint partnership with Sheffield Sexual Health Services. We also have a project called 'Welfare Wednesdays' where students can collect freebies and speak to one of our welfare support partners (SSHS are on the 4th of every month, they offer sexual health advice and screenings). In addition we have student-led support which is fantastic, our Sexual Health Volunteers do a number of awareness campaigns throughout the year, as do our LGBT+ group, who have been helping out too."
The need for change has already been marked by Leeds University Union, which may explain why fewer people in the region have sought treatment for infection. Charlotte Warner, who is spearheading a season of STI awareness campaigns for young people, explained to us that student sexual health was one of her key objectives for the year:
"We regularly run campaigns to encourage students to be tested for various STI's. Pee For Victory was a recent campaign where we had over 250 students take chlamydia and gonorrhoea tests. It ran for one month in the Union and the campaign also filtered through to halls of residents.
We also have great societies such as 'Sexpression' who conduct outreach work and go into schools and teach young students about sex and relationships including sexual health. It is important to us to help to promote other services that are available in and around Leeds so that there are wider options available for our members."
The data points to young people as being particularly vulnerable to STIs, and one reason for this may be inadequate education about sexual health in schools and elsewhere. There is no doubt, however, that universities from the regions in question are fully committed to improving sexual health resources for their students.
Along with universities, there are several charities and organisations in the UK who are working to improve the sexual health of the nation, with a particular focus on young people. One of these is Sexpression:UK, a network of student projects based at UK universities. Their National Coordinator, Ellen Adams, told us:
"Sexpression:UK believes not enough is being done to equip every young person in the UK with the knowledge and tools to make informed decisions about their sexual health. Some schools and organisations are doing incredible work to educate young people. But until we have PSHE and sex and relationships education on the national curriculum we cannot hope to end the inconsistent provision. This education is paramount in reducing the transmission of STIs, increasing safer sex practices and access to sexual health services. Every young person has a right to information about their body, relationships and health."
Another leading voice on this topic is the Terrence Higgins Trust, an organisation which over the years has become one of the largest HIV and sexual health charities in Europe. Jason Warriner, Clinical Director at THT, gave us his advice on staying safe this Valentine's Day:
"…education is paramount in reducing the transmission of STIs, increasing safer sex practices and access to sexual health services." Sexpression:UK
"This Valentines Day, many people will be getting loved up with their nearest and dearest. But no one wants the special occasion to be ruined by sexual ill health. Young people are the group most at risk from chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections, but still sex and relationships education in schools is leaving far too many people behind. It's vital that young people have access to age-appropriate information and advice and sexual health that empowers them to make the right choices for them on when and how they want to have sex.
The contraceptive pill can prevent pregnancy, but only condoms will protect against sexually transmitted infections. So this Valentines Day, we would urge young people not to let unsafe sex ruin the mood. Get informed, carry condoms and, if you think you've been at risk, contact your nearest sexual health service for a full screening."
Despite the recent alarming statistics on STIs, with so many dedicated organisations working in tandem to promote education and awareness around sexual health issues, the outlook for young people has to be positive.
Here at HealthExpress, our mission is to provide discreet and convenient solutions for many common lifestyle problems, including STIs. If you think you may have an STI, you can order a test through our site. If the test is positive, the treatment you need is available from HealthExpress at no extra cost.
Alternatively, if you have already been diagnosed and need the correct treatment, you can take a free, online consultation with one of our doctors.