‘Educate sex-clinic patients on drink risk’ call

EXPERTS are calling for young people to be taught the risks of drinking excess alcohol when they access sexual health services.

The NHS is missing “key opportunities” to tackle a growing problem, a report from the Alcohol and Sexual Health Working Party said.

It highlights the link between alcohol and sexual risk-taking, and suggests teenagers could benefit from education about alcohol abuse.

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The working party delivers its warning just two weeks after the Health Survey for England suggested the numbers of young people having sex while under the age of consent was increasing, with one in 10 young people aged 16 to 24 having had 10 or more sexual partners.

More than 1.5 million young people attend clinics dealing in sexually-transmitted infections every year.

The working party was created by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) supported by the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).

The report said: “STIs mostly affect young persons under the age of 25 years and 16- to 24-year-olds are among the highest consumers of alcohol.

“People who drink hazardously are more likely to have multiple partners, thus increasing the risk of acquiring an STI.

“Surveys in sexual health services suggest that as many as one in five attendees consume hazardous levels of alcohol.”

The study notes that consumption of higher strength alcoholic drinks has increased, particularly among girls.

While men still consume more alcohol than women, young women are more likely to report feeling drunk.

It added: “Earlier alcohol use is associated with early onset of sexual activity and is a marker of later sexual risk-taking, including lack of condom use, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted infection and teenage pregnancy.”

In a sample of more than 2,000 15- to 16-year-olds from the UK, 11 per cent regretted having sex under the influence of alcohol, it added. Some 82 per cent of 16- to 30-year-olds also report drinking alcohol before sexual activity.

Dr Simon Barton, chair of the working party, said: “The links between alcohol use and poor sexual health have been recognised for some time, yet the services available do not reflect this clear association.

“Failing to discuss alcohol consumption with a patient accessing sexual health services is a missed opportunity.

“Although services that aim to tackle this problem cannot be effective in isolation, there is a real opportunity for sexual health services to support people both in identifying their behavioural risks and in empowering them to take action.”

Dr Janet Wilson, president-elect of BASHH, said: “Everyone knows that alcohol fuels risky sex – so a sexual health check-up is the ideal time to broach the subject.”

The report, Alcohol and sex: a cocktail for poor sexual health, says all clinicians providing sexual health services should be trained in asking about drinking habits.

Patients should also be referred for further support, including to local alcohol services, if they need it.

Royal College of Nursing chief executive, Dr Peter Carter, said: “Nurses are often the first point of contact when dealing with sexual health issues.

“We would fully support sexual health services providing information on the potentially devastating effects that alcohol can have on the health of the nation.

“Robust regulation on the sale of alcohol, along with sensible minimum pricing and educational campaigns, is also desperately needed.”