DIY tests to improve sexual health

A Bevan Exemplar project enables people to test themselves for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea at home.

Currently in Wales, testing for Sexually Transmitted Infection (STIs) through the NHS can be done through GPs or through the Sexual Health Clinics. However, a core finding of the Sexual Health Review (2017/18) was that sexual health services are not meeting the ever increasing demand and, as such, there is a need to look at different, innovative ways to meet this demand. Many individuals who seek these services are not infected and require education and reassurance. It is also important to consider changes in the way that people have relationships, and access services, as a result of new technology and media.

With the development of non-invasive tests for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, these patients do not need to see a healthcare professional and could, therefore, access appropriate care without visiting a clinic. This frees up specialists in the NHS to address more urgent and complex sexual health cases.

Order online

Public Health Wales, in collaboration with Hywel Dda University Health Board and Signum Health, are leading a project which has been funded by Welsh Government and enables patients to order a sexual health testing kit online, and return the swab through the post.

People who think they may need to be tested can answer a few basic questions on the website to check their eligibility before making an order. They will then receive their DIY kit in a discreet envelope, carry out the swab test at home and sent it back for analysis. Following this process, the individual would be contacted with their results, and further guidance for treatment if needed.

Improving NHS efficiency 

By removing the need for patients to attend an appointment for an initial test, there is a reduction in overall cost of patient care and an improvement in efficiency for the NHS. This improvement is a result of removing individuals with no symptoms from the clinic queue (approximately 30% of patients currently seen in clinic), at a time when 10% of patients are turned away due to lack of clinic capacity.

The initiative enables better access to information, risk assessment and sexual health promotion, including those at high risk of sexual ill health and those who find it difficult to access existing services. This places people at the heart of care and gives them the tools for self-management.

By increasing access to sexual health services, it is hoped the initiative will improve sexual health by reducing the impact of untreated sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Wales. This could eventually lead to a reduction in transmission of STIs as a result of earlier treatment.

Positive feedback

The scheme, which was trialled with the support of leading think tank the Bevan Commission, has been positively received so far, with users commenting that it reduces their embarrassment and also enables greater flexibility for self-management beyond set appointment times.

The initiative is now being evaluated through an online survey to inform the development of an All Wales community testing service for diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections. It is hoped that, if the scheme is deemed a success, people across Wales can benefit from discreet STI testing in the comfort of their own homes.

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