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TUS in Athlone wins national award for its student sexual health service

Pictured at the HSE Excellence Awards in Farmleigh, Dublin, were Dr Dominic Rowley, consultant in sexual health and HIV; Sarah La Cumbre, TUS Student Resource Centre manager; Laura Tully, project lead and TUS Student Health Centre manager; HSE CEO Paul Reid, VP for Student Education and Experience Frances O’Connell, Dr Tom Walsh, GP clinical lead at TUS Student Health Service; and Audrey Doyle, TUS Student Health Centre administrator.

The Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) has won a national award for its recently-developed student sexual health, contraception and health promotion service.

The pioneering service, led by local nurse Laura Tully, is funded by the HSE and was introduced to students on the TUS Athlone campus in the 2021/22 academic year.

Yesterday (Thursday) it was awarded the ‘Sláintecare Integration’ HSE Excellence Award at an event held in Farmleigh, Dublin.

The self-referral service, available to all students free of charge, is delivered on campus with the view to promoting patient comfort and removing barriers to access, such as as travel time, costs, stigma, fear, and embarrassment.

The TUS facility offers a comprehensive range of services including the full testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), vaccinations, contraception advice, pregnancy testing, PEPSE/PREP, health promotion, the provision of condoms and information resources.

Without services in the area, students previously had to travel for up to an hour to receive treatment, with data showing that 90 percent of those referred to a specialist service were missing their appointments.

Now, with appointments available – often same day – on TUS’s Athlone campus, the university said there had been an almost 3,000 percent increase in the number of students attending appointments, in addition to a 100 percent increase in partner notifications where appropriate.

“We are proud to receive this award as acknowledgement of the positive impact our pioneering, integrated sexual health, contraception and health promotion service has in providing equitable, accessible nurse-led care in the right time and place,” said Laura Tully, project lead and TUS Sexual Health Service nurse manager in Athlone.

“The contributions of our GP clinical lead Dr Tom Walsh, Dr Dominic Rowley, consultant in sexual health and HIV; the Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme, HSE colleagues at Mullingar Regional Hospital laboratory and Genitourinary Medicine Department are valued, as are the inputs and support of the entire team at TUS.”

She continued, “It is my pleasure and honour to lead this project from initial concept, pitch and plan through implementation and delivery for the past two years.

“I am excited about the acknowledged upscale potential and look forward to progressing plans to expand the service across the entire TUS campus community.”

This video outlines some of the benefits of the service:

Welcoming the award for the service this week, Frances O’Connell, VP for Student Education and Experience across TUS, said, “It is wonderful to see the tremendous efforts of Nurse Tully and the team at the TUS Student Sexual Health Service recognised at a national level for their work in creating a space free from judgement where students’ health concerns can be addressed in a holistic and confidential manner.

“Health worries can have a profoundly detrimental impact on students’ ability to engage fully with their work, but by having this service freely available to students by self-referral, they can access all the help and support they might require, enabling them to focus on their academic work and enjoying their university experience.

“Following the success of this pilot model of student health care, we are now looking to the HSE and other funding mechanisms that would enable us to extend the service to all six TUS campuses, and indeed there is interest in seeing how this might be replicated across the sector,” she added.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly congratulated those involved in providing the service in TUS, saying that it “benefits students by enabling equitable access, early treatment and improved follow up, all within their campus community, reflecting the values of Sláintecare – providing the right care at the right time in the right place.”

TUS also received a highly commended award in the ‘Improving Patient Experience’ category at the HSE Excellence Awards.

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