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Sexual healthcare now considered a 'luxury'?

The Dublin Well Woman Centre has seen a significant drop in the number of people attending for STI screening.

Dr. Shirley McQuade, Medical Director of the Dublin Well Woman Centre
Dr. Shirley McQuade, Medical Director of the Dublin Well Woman Centre
Image: [File photo] Photocall Ireland

THE DUBLIN WELL Woman Centre is warning young women not to neglect their sexual health, as it’s revealed that 15 percent of women under the age of twenty have chlamydia.

The centre has published its annual report for 2010, and Well Woman’s Chief Executive Alison Begas said there is a worry that for some people sexual health services are being considered a ‘luxury’.

There has been a decline in the numbers attending the centre for STI screening, emergency contraception and fertility screening for the first time in ten years. In 2007 almost 3,000 people presented for STI screening while in 2010 that number was 1,600.

Begas told TheJournal.ie that the number of young people who have chlamydia is a real cause for concern, and said that she would “hate to think” that people are afraid to present for testing because of cost. She’s calling for a nationwide screening programme for chlamydia for under-25s, similar to the one provided for cervical cancer screening, while Well Woman’s Medical Director Dr. Shirley McQuade said:

The test is simple and non-intrusive and  - where a patient is found to present with a positive result – the treatment is very simple and effective.

Long-term consequences

Begas said that the short-term saving made by not presenting for STI screening can lead to very serious long-term consequences. The Well Woman Centre believes that a combination of financial strain and emigration has led to the drop in people presenting for services. The centre has revised some of its prices but Begas reiterated that it is not a free service.

She said that:

Increasingly one of the first questions people ask is ‘how much is it going to cost?’ If there needs to be a follow-up test they ask how much is that going to cost. It’s a real concern for a lot of people.

Begas said that there are public STI testing services provided in Dublin at the Mater and St. James’s Hospitals, but that these are under immense pressure. She said that the public nature of the waiting rooms, and the lengthy waiting times, may put people off. She said that there needs to be a greater provision of free services, and that the barriers to people accessing the services need to be removed.

The one service which has not seen a drop in numbers is the cervical cancer screening programme, which is provided free of charge to women aged between 25 and 60. Begas said that the programme is “one of the single best innovations that have happened in this country”. The centre has seen more and more women in their thirties, forties and fifties attending for smear tests for the first time ever.

The number of people attending the Well Woman Centre for emergency contraception was in decline even before it became available over the counter. Begas said that one of the possible reasons for this decline is the number of young women who are emigrating.

The centre said that while it welcomed the introduction of over-the-counter emergency contraception, there was concern about women “missing out on the level of comprehensive sexual health consultation that only a family planning doctor of GP can provide”.

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About the author:

Emer McLysaght

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