Minister visits TUS Athlone for tour of student sexual health service

Minister Hildegarde Naughton meeting members of the TUS Students’ Union in Athlone today (Thursday) during SHAG (Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance) Week. Photo: Nathan Cafolla

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton was in Athlone today (Thursday) to tour the student sexual health, contraception and health promotion service on the local Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) campus.

The pioneering service was introduced in Athlone in 2021, and Minister Naughton said it could be replicated in other third level institutions across the country.

“This is a service for more than 6,700 students on campus, with a real emphasis on people’s sexual health,” she said.

“I know there are a lot of resources and services provided here to help prevent against unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as supporting students in developing a responsible approach to their personal health and relationships.

“I recognise that the sexual health services available at TUS Athlone are helping to create a campus culture that values and respects the diverse sexual health needs of students, as well as moulding a population that understands the importance of consent, healthy relationships and the prevention of STIs.

“This is a programme I would like to see rolled out in other third level institutions right across the country,” added Minister of State Naughton, who holds the portfolio for Public Health and Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy.

The Fine Gael Minister’s visit coincided with SHAG (Sexual Health Awareness and Guidance) Week, a nationwide student-led campaign aimed at fostering conversations about consent and sexual health awareness among young people.

Minister of State Hildegarde Naughten visited Athlone for a tour of the TUS student sexual health service. Pictured (L to R): Frances O’Connell, VP for Student Education and Experience; Minister of State for Public Health and Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Hildegarde Naughton; Laura Tully, TUS Athlone Sexual Health Service Manager; Dr Thomas Walsh, TUS Student Health Service. Photo: Nathan Cafolla.

Over the last three years, TUS Athlone’s nurse-led student sexual health service has garnered acclaim, including a prestigious HSE Excellence Award, for its innovative approach in providing timely and accessible care to students.

Operated on a self-referral basis, the service is cost-free and aims to remove barriers to access such as travel, time and stigma.

It offers confidential sexual health testing, treatment, advising, health education and health promotion programmes, access to contraception and a wide range of specialised sexual health services.

Previously, students had to travel for up to an hour to receive treatment, and data indicated that 90% of those referred to sexual health services were missing their appointments.

Sexual Health Service Manager Nurse Laura Tully stressed the importance of on-campus sexual healthcare, especially amid rising STI rates among young people:

“Recent data underscores the urgency of addressing STIs in young people, with a doubling in the rate of the diagnoses of some STI notifications between 2022 and 2023.

“Our on-campus service plays a vital role in providing students with easy access to high-quality sexual healthcare and age-appropriate advice.

“By removing barriers like travel time, stigma and fear of absenteeism from class, we ensure students can prioritise their well-being and therefore their academic success,” said Ms Tully.

Welcoming Minister Naughton to the campus, VP for Student Education and Experience across TUS, Frances O’Connell, lauded the service as “a model of best practice and an innovation in primary care where student health concerns can be addressed in a space free from judgement, which is easily accessible on campus and publicly acknowledged as effective.”

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