The HSE has launched a new sexual health strategy which aims to ease the "significant increase" in levels of sexually transmitted infections in Ireland.
The first ever National Sexual Health Strategy and Action Plan proposes to improve access to sexual health education and information, and to ensure high-quality sexual health services are available to all on an affordable basis.
The policy was developed after a series of recent reports outlined the rapid growth of diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis among sexually active people.
The European Centre for Disease Control last month identified Ireland as having one of the highest rates of new cases of gonorrhoea across the continent over the last decade, with the incidence of syphilis and chlamydia both doubling in the same period.
The strategy covers the next six years, but specific measures including auditing of all clinical sexual health services and the establishment of a national sexual health training programme will be completed by the end of 2016.
"Our goals are to expand existing services and make it easier for people to get tested," said Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, who announced the strategy on Thursday.
He said: “It’s really because of the fact that we’ve had a significant increase in sexually transmitted diseases in the last couple of years and we want to turn that around.
“The strategy runs over six years, but it’s important that it doesn’t just sit around for six years, that we actually deliver on key actions in the first two years.”
Consultant genitourinary physician Dr Fiona Lyons has been appointed national clinical lead for sexual health services as part of the move, and €150,000 has been allocated to pilot a new rapid HIV testing service in Dublin, along with an expansion to existing services in Cork and Limerick.
Students and gay men are two particular groups being targeted by the plan due to increasing infection rates. Tiernan Brady of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) welcomed the new approach.
He said: “This strategy both calls on all relevant groups to work together to prioritise sexual health, and sets out for the first time a clear plan of how that can happen.
“We especially welcome the strategy’s emphasis on the need to develop specific policies and actions which are targeted and tailored to population groups with specific needs such as gay and bisexual men.”