All schools should consider offering STD tests during lessons, say public health experts

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Parents from Brighton and Hove have criticised a scheme which offers 15 and 16-year-olds swabs in the classroom

Classroom tests to screen children for sexually transmitted diseases should be introduced across the country if they reduce infection rates, public health leaders have said.

Speaking after parents criticised the introduction of such tests in Sussex, the Royal Society for Public Health said the initiative was a good way to raise awareness of sexual health – and should be expanded more widely if it is shown to work.

Public Health England said around one in 12 tests for the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia are carried out in schools, colleges and universities, rather than in medical settings.

Yesterday parents from Brighton and Hove criticised a scheme which offers 15 and 16-year-olds swabs in the classroom, so they can test themselves in school toilets.

Headteachers said the initiatives aimed to show children how “easy and painless” such tests were, so they would use them in future.

But parents said they had no idea that the schemes were in operation at nine schools in East Sussex and said teenagers had been left “humiliated” after being asked to try the tests.

Last night the head of the Royal Society for Public Health said she would like to see more schools introducing testing – but said efforts should be made to contact parents and tell them about the plans before schemes were introduced.

Shirley Cramer, the charity’s chief executive said: “By practically demonstrating to young people what a chlamydia test entails this initiative may help to demystify and de-stigmatise the procedure – which in turn might help young people feel more comfortable learning about other aspects of sexual health.”

She said such initiatives should be accompanied with a “well-rounded education that helps young people better understand the personal and social consequences of sexual behaviour.”

“If this initiative is demonstrated to increase awareness and testing then we would welcome the scheme’s expansion,” she said.

Public health officials last night said it was up to local councils to decide whether to introduce such schemes to their secondary schools.

Schools in the Wirral, in Merseyside, have introduced tests to test teens for chlamydia in clinics run by school nurses, with similar schemes offered in Redbridge in London.

The sessions were introduced as part of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, which aims to reduce rates of the infection, which can cause infertility.

Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Britain, with more than 200,000 people testing positive for it in 2012.
Around two-thirds of people diagnosed with chlamydia were aged under 25.

Jules Hillier, deputy chief executive officer at young people’s sexual health and wellbeing charity Brook said it was important that young people got access to information about testing and treatment for STIs.

“Young people tell us they would like health services and education to link more closely so that fear and misunderstanding can be avoided,” she said. “If this scheme was created in consultation with young people, and their dignity and right to confidential services were respected, it may well help to remove some of the anxiety about testing that exists.”

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