Despite teenage pregnancy rates declining nationally over the past decade, the east London borough of Croydon has seen a rise in rates during the last 12 months.
The average teenage conception rate in England is 24 per 1,000; Croydon’s number is way above the national average at 32 per 1,000. Abortions are also higher in the north and east boroughs of London, with 36 per cent of women having already had an abortion and requiring repeats. The borough also has some of the highest rates of STIs in the 15-24 age groups.
These are worrying statistics, with young people at risk of poor educational achievement, social isolation and poor physical and mental health. The local authority is looking to set up a joint workshop with teenagers to get them more involved in redesigning the service and gain an insight into the issues they face. By reflecting teenagers’ needs, the authority will be able to provide the help and support to encourage teenagers to use sexual health services for the first time. The teenagers are also concerned about confidentiality, the fears of being judged, stigma, lack of confidence and the way staff treat them.
Other points raised by teenagers were the long waiting times and short and inconvenient opening times of health clinics. Free condoms and lessons on correct use are available to 13-24-year-olds in a confidential scheme called C-card. A Young People’s Sexual Health Team is currently visiting 14 schools in the borough to educate them on sexual health.
Croydon also has the highest rate of HIV in the UK, with an estimated 1 in 170 people living with the virus. This has almost doubled in the past decade. NHS Croydon has recently launched an awareness campaign, advertising on billboards and public transport and in gay bars and clubs. Men in particular tend to go to clinics too late, so the message being given is to go early while it is still treatable. There many options for STI testing in London, and there are also online tests like those found at https://www.checkurself.org.uk/order-a-test-kit/ for those who prefer complete anonymity.
Croydon council are in the process of redesigning their service, which will focus on prevention and provision in the community, with contraception and STI treatments more readily available. Let’s hope it is 100 per cent successful!