Time was when pharmacies’ sexual health services were confined to customers’ furtively purchasing condoms. Now, as well as being involved in sexual health promotion, pharmacists are routinely delivering such services as emergency contraception, chlamydia testing and treatment and condom distribution.
And pharmacies’ role in sexual health services could well be set to expand as the government’s vision (outlined in last year’s public health white paper) is for more readily available advice and increased awareness-raising on sexually transmitted infections. Mimi Lau, Numark’s director of professional services, says pharmacists are ideally placed to reach those less likely to access sexual healthcare and contraception any other way, and can offer a discreet service that will also be cost effective for the NHS.
However, Ms Lau warns that while pharmacists have the potential to influence this area, the public health white paper falls short of defining a specific role for them. “Pharmacy is not a guaranteed provider, so if we don’t stake our claim early we could lose out to others. The biggest threat is not necessarily other healthcare providers, but new entrants such as social enterprises who will be eyeing up this opportunity.”
She advises pharmacists to urge more commissioners to use their services to tackle such public health issues as sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
Pharmacists are embracing the chance to offer oral antibiotics for chlamydia over the counter and according to Actavis, which manufactures Clamelle, 8,700 pharmacies are registered with the NPA to offer the test and treat service.
Multiple pharmacy companies are devising innovative ways of promoting awareness about the importance of sexual healthcare. Boots has launched a men’s sexual wellbeing range to help address such issues as premature ejaculation and erectile function, while last year the Co-operative Pharmacy offered a 25 per cent discount on Durex condoms.
Condoms continue to be a major market in sexual health, according to data analyst SymphonyIRI Group, but figures show sales have declined by almost 5 per cent between 2009 and 2010. In response, brands such as Durex are developing new products and raising awareness through advertising campaigns (see the full version of this article online at www.chemistand druggist.co.uk).
Lynne Henshaw, Numark’s director of marketing, says sexual health and contraception has become an area with more ranges to choose from and brands are developing new products “to enhance and inject some excitement into the category and make it a little less taboo”.
Ms Henshaw says ensuring condom displays are accessible will limit the embarrassment factor for the purchaser. She suggests they should not be placed at the very top or bottom section of a fixture and that, where space allows, pharmacists consider dual-siting condoms. They should also be positioned within GSL medicines, male grooming, or feminine health sectors. Within the GSL section, condoms can be situated next to or near to pregnancy testing kits, to create a family planning and sexual health and wellbeing section.
Nanette Kerr, director of pharmacy for the NPA, advises pharmacists to publish services in a “discreet way” to avoid customers feeling uncomfortable. For example, some pharmacies have posters advertising the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP) in the condom section of their shop, while others try to increase the uptake of people using these services by asking every patient within the NCSP age range whether they would like a chlamydia test.
As well as advertising sexual health services on site, pharmacists can place posters in schools, youth centres and universities to promote sexual health messages, suggests Nitin Chavda, lead pharmacy services pharmacist for Day Lewis.
Providing sexual health counselling, support and safe sex consultation adds a USP to pharmacy. It can be embarrassing for patients to ask pharmacists for contraception or sexual health advice, so it is important they put measures in place to make meetings as comfortable as possible.
“Privacy is important for patients, so pharmacists can put them at ease by highlighting the private consultation area where they can speak confidentially without others overhearing the conversation,” says Ms Kerr.
Pharmacists can make the most of a consultation by giving additional sexual health advice and referring patients, says Saghir Ahmed, NHS services manager for the Co-operative Pharmacy. “If a customer comes to you with symptoms, you need to see if there seems to be anything more serious, and if so they should always be referred to their GP,” he says.
Staff should attend sexual health training courses so they feel comfortable giving advice to customers. As Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers says: “These days we can’t be shy of sexual health. If we’re embarrassed, customers will be too, so we need to be confident to sensitively point people in the right direction, as our advice can change their lives.”
Rohpharm Pharmacy, Plaistow