FROM educating youngsters at the heart of their communities to offering easily accessible and flexible sexual health services, normalising testing has been the Great Western Hospital’s main priority.

Over the past three years, thanks to a successful condom scheme and better awareness, Swindon finally shed its status as teenage pregnancy capital of the UK.

The sexual health team also has seen a steady rise in screening, especially chlamydia, going a long way to break down the stigma surrounding sex, testing and protection.

While STIs were on the rise in the town, this was mostly due to the increased number of diagnosis, according to the GWH.

This was cause to celebrate for the sexual health team as its very first Swindon Sexual Health Week campaign neared an end yesterday.

“People access services more freely,” said Laura Hill, lead health adviser at GWH. “And we are hopefully taking the stigma out of coming to clinics.

“The chlamydia screening programme has helped because people can order them online and do them at home. They don’t have to see a clinician. It has been a way to introduce people to STI testing and sexual health.

“Historically sexual health was seen as something you hid in a corner. People used the services when they had a problem. Now people see it more as managing their health.

“We are trying to normalise sexual health and make it easier for people to access services and testing.”

A push to promote long-acting reversible contraception was also one of the reasons behind the drop in teenage pregnancies in Swindon which fell to 118 in according to the latest figures. This was significantly lower than the 218 recorded in 1998.

All pregnancy, STIs and contraception services were integrated in April 2011.

This has meant easier access to services for patients. The team went a step further this week by launching a one-stop-shop website Love Life!, offering information about symptoms, screening, clinics and contraception in one place.

“It has made a difference,” said Darren Pearson, deputy general manager of medical specialties services at GWH.

“We have outreach nurses and college clinics in the evenings. It’s not just about one fits all. We are trying to accommodate as many people as we can. We have a condom scheme where people have a registration number and can pick up 12 free condoms a month from some pharmacies and Carfax Street.”