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Connecting with the young people of Darlington

Marc Smith
Healthcare Journalist
Campden Publishing
E:marcsmith@campden.com

Teenagers will be able to access a host of delicate health advice away from a clinical setting thanks to a new initiative being launched in Darlington, County Durham. Darlington Primary Care Trust has joined forces with Connexions (see Box 1) to deliver the teen health clinic in more relaxed surroundings. They will be able to talk about problems, including bullying, relationships, stress, and sexual and general health concerns, that frequently affect young people's lives.

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The project was set up after the building containing the local teen health clinic and other services was closed down and relocated to new premises in the town. Local youngsters helped to design the new clinic and choose furnishings and colour schemes, which explains its relaxed, modern and nonclinical feel. The nonclinical aspect is particularly important as it means that young people can come into a less intimidating and more welcoming environment. Connexions locality manager Lynn Kilpatrick said: "I think it is great as it means we can provide a specialist service and encourage young people to come and look at a whole range of things. There is a certain shyness about discussing some issues, and this way they are more likely to attend an appointment."

One-stop shop
The clinic is open from Monday to Thursday between 3.45pm and 4.45pm, and school nurses run a one-stop shop for those who come for an appointment. A host of services for 13-19 year olds, including sexual health information, careers advice and guidance, free use of IT facilities and the internet, access to personal advisers and financial support, are provided. Pregnancy testing is available for girls, while the C Card condom distribution scheme encourages young people to register to get free condoms. Those who do register are given a C Card, which they can hand over at a variety of outlets to get free condoms. Awkward questions are avoided, which helps reduce the embarrassment surrounding buying them. The venues who have joined up to this scheme include: GP practices, health centres, the First Stop drop-in centre, family planning clinics, the PCT's sexual health outreach worker, SureStart offices, Darlington Memorial Hospital, Maidendale House community centre, the YMCA Hostel and Darlington College. The Teenage Health Service is there to signpost young people to emergency contraceptive services that operate from various chemists in the town.
Where health staff can't help, they will be able to point young people in the direction of agencies that can. Joyce Varley, Darlington PCT's school nurse clinical team leader, highlights the test to the nurses' skills: "Being aware of other support agencies and their services is a challenge. With better partnership working, the school nurses will contribute to improving access to other services for the town's teenagers."

Raising awareness
The service is in its infancy at the new venue but is being well received by the young people who have used it. So far the 16-18-year-old age group has used the new centre more than their younger counterparts. The goals for the future are to make people more aware of the facility and raise awareness in Darlington of young people's needs. It is also hoped that it can be expanded to provide a service over the holidays, not just term time, as some of the greatest needs occur at Christmas time. One very important goal is to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the area.
The teenage health clinic is one of a raft of services provided by the PCT and other agencies that have contributed to a fall in unplanned pregnancies in Darlington - down by 26%. It is also hoped it will impact on the number of STIs contracted by young people. "It is hoped that this new venture will attract many different types of young people and their parents or carers," Mrs Varley said.