Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Chlamydia screening Programme is a central plank in improving young people's sexual health

Today the Committee of Public Accounts Select Committee publish their report, Young people’s sexual health: the National Chlamydia Screening Programme. In response I have issued the following statement;

“There has been duplication of effort. The programme has not always been as efficient or effective as possible. It was clear from the National Audit Office report there is much to learn and much to do. The good news is that much is already underway to make improvements.

We support the PAC conclusion that better commissioning must take place. We must develop services that make sense for young people and get the best value for each pound spent. As such a national online testing service for all, regardless of where they live, should be commissioned as a matter of urgency.

We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. The National Chlamydia Screening Programme must continue so we can find and treat infections that would otherwise have gone undiagnosed. The programme is one plank, along with the teenage pregnancy strategy that will ensure continuing improvements in young people’s sexual health.'

The urgent thing now is to learn from history, from what has worked and from what has not worked to ensure the right balance of locally driven and locally determined responses, with national direction to reduce effort and duplication, ensure services are relevant and make sense to young people and ensure best value for money. Steps have already been taken by DH and NSCP to address many of the issues the PAC report raised and I look forward to doing all I can to help them.

Brook in Milton Keynes is 20 years old

Today was a very proud day for Brook. The Brook service in Milton Keynes was 20 years old and today they opened new premises. As I arrived for the launch, my first thought was wow - it was a bright entrance and Brook's logo proudly across the entrance. The building is not on the high street, and it is not down a back alley either. It seemed to be just the right balance - absolutely clear to young people that we respect their desire for somewhere discreet AND that sex is not something dirty and round the back, and sexual health services are there as an important part of the community.

I was asked to speak at the launch and as I was preparing to do so, I was remembering my early experiences of Brook at Milton Keynes over the last ten or fifteen years. My first was meeting one of Milton Keynes' earliest staff Sue on a training course when I had just started working with young people in sexual health. I had never heard anyone talk so passionately, fondly and warmly about young people before. I remember it now so clearly. It made a real impact. And it is what i have learnt over the past three years makes Brook people special in my eyes, and more importantly in the eyes of the hundreds of young people who trust Brook staff day in day out to help them, advise them and support them. The magic ingredient is genuine care.
Then as assessor for Milton Keynes Healthy Schools Programme I saw tremendous partnership working between Brook, Relate and Healthy Schools to get sex and relationships education on the agenda in schools. Respectful partnership working using the skills of the different partners to best effect. And then between appointment and start date I met my Chair for champagne (and lunch). He told me I needed to talk to Jackie because she was running an excellent service, and i needed to visit Brook in Milton Keynes because they had a model that was replicable and needed replicating. Lots. And over the last three and a half years I have seen excellent replicable work being done with boys, in c card scheme, in schools and healthy schools, in colleges, with the chlamydia screening programme and much much more within Milton Keynes. And as evidence of that brilliance, there were so many people from MK at the launch today, partners, stakeholders and supporters from both the statutory and voluntary sector. And over the last two years Brook in Milton Keynes has become Brook East of England as they have won contracts and set up services in Luton and Bedfordshire.

Back to the building, one of the things that really bothers me about many health service buildings is they are a bit dank and dingy, and in need of a bit of health promotion themselves. And in an increasingly consumerist society where you go to shops and get an experience rather than just a clothes rail, we need to make sure that health levels up to fashion or the best computer game store, otherwise we send a message, that four stripes on your shoe, or getting the new X box is more valuable than health, and that to me is a wrong message to give. And it is a message that this building, 624 South Fifth Street certainly isn't going to give young people.

As I said in my speech at the launch, I have no idea exactly who the people were involved in making this building happen, but it was a 7 year journey to get to there, and on behalf of all the young people who have used and will continue to use Brook's services in Milton Keynes thank you to each and every one of them.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Young mums speak out

A group of young mums challenge the stereopypes and are taking their message to the Prime Minister this week.

An article in the Independent on Sunday reports....

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Sexual violence, trafficking and rape

I have just watched some of Stag Weekends: the Dirty Secrets and if you didn't catch it I recommend watching it on BBC iPlayer. I thought Simon Boazman, the journalist investigating did a really good job - he remained calm, compassionate and clear, as well as fantastically human - as he interviewed a range of people including a woman who had been trafficked and forced into the sex trade, and a pimp. Uncomfortable viewing, but not something any of us can afford to stick our heads in the sand about.

The challenge for many of us is recognising this goes on, and not thinking about exploitation and trafficking as something that happens to others. Sexual exploitation is real in the UK. Each year far too many girls and boys are sexually exploited and forced into prostitution. Today Brook ran a training course for professionals called TEASE - telling everyone about sexual exploitation - based on the brilliant work done by Brook in Blackburn to address sexual exploitation.

Several years ago, Barnardos produced a pack for working with young people about sexual exploitation called 'things we don't talk about'. Today on the tube I noticed a new campaign from the NHS The Havens about rape. The advert pictures a young woman wearing a t-shirt saying wake up to rape and then the text - Michelle tells her friends everything, but explaining to them that she was raped isn't something she feels comfortable about.

For far too long, we have stuck our collective head in the sand about sexual violence. Thankfully programmes like this, done well, start the conversations.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

For Rari, or For me - the importance of clear communication

Over Christmas I watched a couple of You've Been Framed episodes - for me there is a guilty pleasure in a) having time to watch whatever is on the TV without having to worry about time and b) watching the everyday mishaps of people's lives, with the clear knowledge that a fall on the bum may have hurt at the time but was unlikely to have long lasting consequences because the video has been sent in for other people's viewing.

There was one programme which profiled children's adventures. Amongst many funny head butting birthday cakes, being frightened by talking Christmas tress and mowing down the Christmas tree with the life size toy care, there were two particular clips which highlighted the importance of good communication.

The first was the birthday party of a girl still in a highchair so 2 - 3 years old. The family were singing happy birthday to you and she got quite upset and indignant - NO! Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me. The adults continued with Happy Birthday to you. Probably a lesson for another day - at that point in time the birthday would have been enjoyed more had they starting singing happy birthday to me. Or indeed pointing at the girl if they were going to continue with singing 'happy birthday to you'. Somehow the communication needed to change for her to feel happy and enjoy the moment.

The second, really made me laugh when the boy opened a toy car and someone said is that a Ferrari and the boy shouted no it is For me. Maybe there is a Rari in their family and in any case the boy heard its For Rari.

Both highlight that what is said doesn't have to be wrong to be misunderstood or problematic. And sometimes when I train professionals they will say well I told them the truth, I used the right words and pass the problem of miscommunication onto the young person. Communication is a two way thing, and when we are working in any professional role, but particularly with young people, it is our responsibility to ensure we are understood, and that we understand.

Of course, nothing I have said is new, but to communicate effectively we must recognise that the way that young people are accessing information and communicating with each other is changing (as indeed it is for all of us - how many managers would have baulked at the idea of being told a member of their team is sick by text 5 years ago, but accept it now; and how many of you will now say can you give me a few bullet points, sometimes to explain quite complex issues?).

So, when texting and social networking is common, many professionals have 10 minutes for a consultation with (young) people, and the world can be reduced into bullet points, when it comes to young people's sexual health only good communication that both parties understand will cut the mustard.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Rhiannon Holder gets MBE

Rhiannon Holder got a well deserved MBE in the Queens New Years Honours list. Rhiannon is a young woman aged 22 who works for Brook in Bristol, and until recently worked with me as a member of the Independent Advisory Group on Teenage Pregnancy.

Her MBE was awarded for services to young people's healthcare. I am delighted that her work has been recognised for a number of reasons;

1) because Rhiannon really deserved it - she is talented, inspired and inspiring and shows exceptional compassion, wisdom and tells it as it is, nicely.
2) because it is great that the issue of young people's healthcare is recognised as important in this way
3) because it is absolutely right that young people should be honoured. Too often honours are awarded when many many years of service have been accumulated. And whilst this is right to a point, rewarding young people who have shown exceptional talent and motivation relatively early in their career can inspire them and others around them to become even more brilliant, and become the next generation of innovators, leaders and changemakers.

Well done Rhiannon. It is January, so detox for me at the moment, but I will raise my fizzy water for you tonight.