At a Glance

Derbyshire PCT under fire over free condoms

Did you say 'over condoms'?

Yes. Derbyshire County PCT has provoked the ire of local politicians with one of its more imaginative public health initiatives. Well, there's no polite way to put this: the trust is handing out condoms to doggers.

Sorry, it's a bit late for April Fool's Day, isn't it?

And a little early for the traditional media silly season, too. No, this is not a made-up story - people who indulge in sex with strangers at remote locations have been targeted as an at-risk group in Derbyshire and they receive a weekly offer of condoms - on site, as it were.

Something of a reputational challenge for the PCT?

An outraged local councillor has been quoted as saying this is, yes, 'bonkers'. But the comms line is that this is part of the PCT's public health remit and nothing to be embarrassed about. The PR team has used figures, such as the average lifetime cost to the NHS of treating a person diagnosed as HIV positive is estimated at £150,000, so preventive measures like these reduce the taxpayers' burden considerably. Therefore, it is an important sexual health initiative and there is also a suggestion that other PCTs also do it, even if they do not admit to it.

Who is looking after comms on this?

Comms officer Claudia Blake has handled all of the media calls on it. She reports to Sean Thornton, assistant director of comms, who is in overall charge of PR for the PCT.

So was this press released then?

As in 'We are now giving out condoms to people who engage in al fresco sexual activity'? No. Partly, the trust says, because its services are confidential. And also partly because it has been doing this for the past 20 years in local 'hotspots' - well before the issue of dogging had a media profile.

If that is the case, why has it come out now?

Press Association, which had presumably been tipped off by someone, ran a piece on it, as did the Derbyshire Evening Telegraph, and The Daily Telegraph also picked it up. Thornton told PRWeek that coverage had actually been quite balanced.

Does the PCT have any other unusual 'services'?

It also has teams of people going to local nightclubs dispensing sexual health advice, which seems positively pedestrian by comparison.

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