Pressures on sexual health services since the transfer of budgets to local authorities have left many nurses feeling unsupported and struggling to access the training they need, the RCN’s public health lead Helen Donovan will warn today.
“The nursing workforce in the sexual health specialism is in crisis with too much responsibility”
Speaking at the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV annual conference, she will set out the challenges facing sexual health nurses at the same time as unveiling a new education and training resource designed to promote the profession.
According to RCN members, changes to services and reductions in funding have affected the services they are able to provide.
A new sexual health education directory – funded by Health Education England – has been created by the college to support the workforce by providing information on different roles and sources of training.
Ms Donovan will tell the conference that “complex and fragmented” commissioning of short contracts in sexual and reproduction health has made the development of the nursing workforce more difficult.
This means staff working in some services could lose skills like cervical cytology – doing smear tests – because some independent providers’ contracts exclude the practice.
“I enjoy providing support and information to empower people to maintain good sexual and reproductive health”
Overall, the problems in commissioning mean it is more difficult to recruit nurses into the field and even more difficult to retain them, she will explain.
Commenting on the launch of the education directory, Ms Donovan said there was an urgent need to boost nursing numbers and ensure nurses could access specialist training in sexual health.
“Sexual health has seen many experienced nursing professionals retire with not enough nurses coming through to take their place, meaning that younger staff members who relied on them for insight and guidance in their career are left unsupported,” she said.
“The nursing workforce in the sexual health specialism is in crisis with too much responsibility falling on too few nurses, sometimes only newly qualified,” said Ms Donovan.
“No one is looking out for the development needs of these more inexperienced nursing staff, and we’ve heard of occasions when hard-working staff have had to self-fund a course to unlock the next stage of their career,” she added.
She said the RCN had called on government to increase local authority public health budgets “for patients’ sake” but additional investment had yet to materialise.
“The college felt it needed to step into the void and provide a proper resource that would help nurses make practical steps forward and attract more into this rewarding stream of nursing,” she said.
The online education directory is aimed at nursing staff working at all levels in sexual health from healthcare support workers and nursing associates through to advanced practitioners.
According to the RCN, it brings information about career developing and training for the nursing specialism together in one place for the first time.
The resource includes videos and case studies to help nurses work out the career route that is best for them.
RCN warns of ‘profound public health challenges’
Nurses featured include Kerry Carruthers, a health adviser working with a community interest company based in Wigan and Leigh.
She had her first insight into genito-urinary medicine in an HIV/AIDS infection unit in Aberdeen but went on to work in cancer care.
“It was emotionally difficult working as a chemotherapy nurse but as I had always had a keen interest in sexual and reproductive health, I took the opportunity to gain some women’s health experience and became a staff nurse in a gynaecological ward, self-funding a contraception course,” she said.
She said she explored working in occupational health and practise nursing but explained she was drawn back to sexual health because of the huge impact it has on people’s wellbeing.
“Supporting sexual wellbeing irrespective of an individual’s background and sexual orientation continued to interest me and the need to assist in public health concerns spoke for itself,” she said.
“It is interesting working with a diverse client group and I enjoy providing support and information to empower people to maintain good sexual and reproductive health,” she added.