School-linked sexual health services for young people (SSHYP): a survey and systematic review concerning current models, effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and research opportunities

Authors: Owen J, Carroll C, Cooke J, Formby E, Hayter M, Hirst J, Lloyd Jones M, Stapleton H, Stevenson M, Sutton A

Journal: Health Technology Assessment Volume: 14 Issue: 30

Publication date: June 2010

DOI: 10.3310/hta14300


Owen J, Carroll C, Cooke J, Formby E, Hayter M, Hirst J, et al.School-linked sexual health services for young people (SSHYP): a survey and systematic review concerning current models, effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and research opportunities. Health Technol Assess 2010;14(30)

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Report based on a service-mapping study and a systematic review concerning sexual health services for young people, either based in or closely linked to schools.


To identify current forms of school-based sexual health services (SBSHS) and school-linked sexual health services (SLSHS) in the UK, review and synthesise existing evidence from qualitative and quantitative studies concerning the effectiveness, acceptability and cost-effectiveness of these types of service and to identify potential areas for further research.

Data sources

Electronic databases were searched from 1985 onwards. For published material: the Cochrane Library (1991-), MEDLINE, PREMEDLINE (2007-), CINAHL, EMBASE, AMED, ASSIA (1987-), IBSS, ERIC, PsycINFO, Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index. For unpublished material and grey literature: the Social Care Institute of Excellence Research Register; the National Research Register (1997-), ReFeR; Index to Theses, and HMIC.

Review methods

A service-mapping questionnaire was circulated to school nurses in all parts of the UK, and semistructured telephone interviews with service coordinators in NHS and local authority (LA) roles were conducted. An evidence synthesis was performed based on a systematic review of the quantitative evidence about service effectiveness, qualitative evidence about user and professional views and a mixed-methods synthesis. A proof-of-concept model for assessing cost-effectiveness was drawn up.


Three broad types of UK sexual health service provision were identified. Firstly, SBSHS staffed by school nurses, offering 'minimal' or 'basic' levels of service. Secondly, SBSHS and SLSHS staffed by a multiprofessional team, but not medical practitioners, offering 'basic' or 'intermediate' levels of service. Thirdly, SBSHS and SLSHS staffed by a multiprofessional team, including medical practitioners offering 'intermediate' or 'comprehensive' levels of service. The systematic review showed that SBSHS are not associated with higher rates of sexual activity among young people, nor with an earlier age of first intercourse. There was evidence to show positive effects in terms of reductions in births to teenage mothers, and in chlamydial infection rates among young men, although this evidence coming primarily from the USA. Therefore, the findings need to be tested in relation to UK-based services. Also evidence to suggest that broad-based, holistic service models, not restricted to sexual health, offer the strongest basis for protecting young people's privacy and confidentiality, countering perceived stigmatisation, offering the most comprehensive range of products and services, and maximising service uptake. Findings from the mapping study also indicate that broad-based services, which include medical practitioner input within a multiprofessional team, meet the stated preferences of staff and of young people most clearly. Partnership-based developments of this kind also conform to the broad policy principles embodied in the Every Child Matters framework in the UK and allied policy initiatives. However, neither these service models nor narrower ones have been rigorously evaluated in terms of their impact on the key outcomes of conception rates and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates, in the UK or in other countries. Therefore, appropriate data were not found to support cost-effectiveness modelling.


Low response rate to the questionnaire. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were under-represented. Also, the distinction made in the questionnaire between 'general health' and 'sexual health' services did not prove robust.


There is no single, dominant service model in the UK. The systematic review demonstrated that the evidence base for these services remains limited and uneven, and draws largely on US studies. Qualitative research is needed to develop robust process and outcome indicators for the evaluation of SLSHS/SBSHS in the UK. These indicators could then be used both in local evaluations, and in large, longitudinal studies of service effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Future research should examine the impact of the differing types of services currently evolving in the UK, encompassing school-based and school-linked models, as well as models with and without medical practitioner involvement.

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