The Role of the Professional Nurse in Relation to Sexually Transmitted Infections Introduction
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been described as “a major public health problem in Europe” (Fenton & Lowndes, 2004, p. 255). There is evidence that there is an increasing number of persons infected with STIs in the UK (Fenton & Lowndes, 2004; Cassell et al., 2006), and primary health care and specialist clinics play a significant role in the diagnosis and treatment of these infections (Cassell et al., 2006). STIs pose a significant public health problem not least of all because many of the most common infections have few or no visible symptoms (Weinstock, Berman & Cates, 2004). In addition, if left untreated, STIs such as Chlamydia and gonorrhoea may lead to complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease. This then may create lasting health problems such as pelvic pain and ectopic pregnancy (Silva et al., 2007). The professional nurse plays a significant role in prevention and treatment of STIs. This essay examines the various roles of the nurse in STI prevention and treatment strategies. Role as Educator
There are a number of public health strategies which may be pursued in order to address the current situation with regard to STIs. In particular, it has been identified that proactive public health promotion is likely to be one of the most beneficial tools in addressing the current levels of STIs identified in the UK and the rest of Europe (Fenton & Lowndes, 2004). For example, condom usage has been shown to significantly reduce the risk to both men and women of a number of different STIs including Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, syphilis and HIV/AIDS (Holmes, Levine & Weaver, 2004). This is therefore one of the most common public health strategies which is pursued, in a number of different locations including schools, GP surgeries, specialist clinics and hospitals. It may be the role of nurses to ensure that patients are aware of appropriate preventative sexual health practices and where they may go to access appropriate services. Lack of knowledge may present a significant barrier to infected patients seeking help for STIs (Malta et al., 2007), which is a further indicator that the role of the nurse in educating patients may be critical. This means that all nurses may have a role in public health promotion for preventing STIs, whether school nurses counselling students, nurses working in GP offices or hospitals, or those specifically employed in sexual health. It may be that nurses work to educate patients who are actively seeking advice related to sexual health issues. For example, nurses working in GUM (genito urinary medicine) clinics and GP surgeries may regularly deal with patients who are specifically seeking advice related to contraception. In this instance it is the role of the nurse to ensure that choices made account for STI prevention as well as unplanned pregnancy. It may also be the responsibility of the nurse to offer this advice even where it is not specifically sought by the patient, where the nurse identifies that there may be a need for such advice. For example, the RCN (Royal College of Nursing) stipulates that a crucial component of nursing is “influencing individuals in such a way that human potential is used for maintaining and promoting health” (RCN, 2003, p. 9). This therefore indicates that the role of educator is something which should be proactively pursued by nurses, offering guidance and support to those where there is identified as being a need for education. This may lead to improvements in sexual health in those who do not recognise that there is a need for such improvements to prevent STIs, thereby overcoming the barrier of a lack of knowledge (Malta et al., 2007). Facilitating Communication
Offering vaccines such as the newly developed human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine may also offer an opportunity to improve sexual health and decrease the workload of GUM clinics (Dempsey,...
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