£5m sexual health project 'had little impact'

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A REPORT on the impact of a £5m government campaign to improve the sexual health of young people has concluded that it has had "limited beneficial impact" and had failed to reach vulnerable teenagers.

An evaluation focused on Healthy Respect Two, the second phase of the government's aim to integrate education, sexual health services and information for young people aged 10 to 18 years across the Lothians area.

It has concluded that the programme"had limited beneficial impact on sexual health and did not reduce the sexual health inequalities between richer and poorer groups".

It also said that its findings "challenge the notion that population based interventions such a school education linked to sexual health clinics are able to affect the sexual health of the most needy in society."

The research was carried out by a team of internationally renowned researchers from Edinburgh Napier University, the MRC Social and Public Health Research Sciences Unit based at Glasgow University and the social research body ScotCen.

The report, due to be presented today at the Wellbeing in Sexual Health (WISH) conference in Edinburgh, also says that there was intervention "which specifically target vulnerable people may be effective in improving sexual health," but said that by tackling the issues of vulnerable young people at a broader level "may prove a more fruitful way forward".

Overall, the report said that when considering the benefits of the programmes, boys gained the most while girls gained "very little or experienced health losses".

The report asserts that in comparing the sexual health of West Lothian school children with the Scottish average, there was no evidence that the rates differed.

Professor Lawrie Elliott at Edinburgh Napier, who will be giving the keynote address at the WISH conference said: "It has been running for close to eight years and we've found the programme has had very limited impact."

Prof Elliott added: "If you really want to do something with vulnerable young people, you've got to give them something more in their lives beyond just sex education."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman commented: "The evaluation showed that Healthy Respect developed effective and long lasting partnerships across health, local authority and the voluntary sector, ensuring that sexual health was on the agenda and that there was a co-ordinated approach to service delivery."

She added that government policy had shifted its emphasis "from dealing with the consequences of health inequalities to tackling the underlying causes such as poverty.