Fears over a lack of confidentiality and low levels of customer care could deter people from accessing sexual health services, warns Consumer Focus Wales.
Responding to the Welsh Assembly Government’s Sexual Health and Wellbeing in Wales consultation document, the consumer champion urges health officials not just to target under-24s and people living with HIV, as older age groups are experiencing rising levels of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) due to changing trends in lifestyles.
Research by Consumer Focus Wales’ predecessor body, the Welsh Consumer Council, found consumers are unsure of their privacy rights when it comes to sexual health professionals sharing personal information and this problem needs to be addressed by health officials in Wales. There was confusion as to whether information would be passed on to parents if the individual was under-16 years of age.
In one case, a schoolgirl awaiting STI results was told that the clinic would telephone the results to her home number. This caused a great deal of anxiety as she was concerned her parents might pick up the phone.
Jennie Bibbings, senior policy advocate at Consumer Focus Wales, said: “We want to see a commitment to high standards of customer care across the sexual healthcare sector in Wales. Research shows that there is room for improvement in this area. Health professionals also need to ensure systems are in place for protecting customer confidentiality, as it is proving to be a source of confusion and embarrassment for some people.”
Consumer Focus Wales also encouraged the Welsh Assembly Government to not only consider just young people in the way it provides services.
Jennie Bibbings added: “Relationships can come to an end at any stage in life, and at that point an individual may enter into new sexual relationships with a low level of awareness about how to have safer sex.
“We want to see everyone in Wales have equal access to the sexual health information and services they need.
“We welcome the working paper’s commitment to include sexual health in Continuing Professional Development programmes for GPs, practice nurses and practice administration staff, and we would strongly recommend that customer care and confidentiality is covered by this training.”
The response from Consumer Focus Wales also calls for greater availability of condoms among high risk groups, urging the Assembly Government not to ignore prostitution in its work, and improved provision of abortion services across Wales.
Consumer Focus is the independent champion for consumers, created from the merger of energywatch, Postwatch and the National Consumer Council (including the Scottish and Welsh Consumer Councils). We are the voice of the consumer, and work to secure a fair deal on their behalf.
For more information please contact Jamie/Angharad on 029 2078 7110/1