With Valentine’s Day just round the corner, it’s a great time to share some news about the local health service. In today’s world, sexual health is difficult to talk about and many people avoid early action because they feel uncertain of how to broach the subject. In an attempt to reach more people earlier, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity are funding a new way of accessing sexual health services for everyone in Southwark and Lambeth. Called SH:24, it is designed to make access quick and easy for anyone who has a concern about their sexual health.
I met up with Leanne Ford who works at SH:24 and she explained what makes the service unique. “The key difference between our service and the NHS clinics that many will be aware of is that residents of SE16 can test themselves for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the privacy of their own home and get results by text message within 7 days. Testing for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV, the service is completely free of charge. In addition to this, people can access support and information through the service’s website or by text. It’s really easy and completely confidential. You don’t even have to give your name or any personal details to be attached to any samples that are returned in the freepost envelope.”
“…if you need support, information or a test kit, all it takes is a couple of clicks!…”
SH:24 is a partnership between the NHS and Southwark and Lambeth councils and the Design Council, bringing together public health experts, sexual health consultants, designers and software developers. Southwark and Lambeth have some of the highest rates of acute STIs nationwide and large populations of young people, men who have sex with men (MSM) and black and minority communities – groups at increased risk which SH:24 sets out to engage.
Independent but integrated
“We are set up as a community interest company which means that any surplus we make is ploughed straight back into the service. We don’t take profit out of the service and aim to build something that will be attractive to a wide range of the community,” explained Leanne. “The reality is that NHS sexual health services have to turn away people because they are under so much pressure, especially in light of recent cuts to the public health budget. We think that building a close working relationship between the lab, the clinic and our service is the best way to encourage more people to get tested earlier.”
“…residents of SE16 have used the service only sparingly…”
How does it work?
“If you think you might have come into contact with nan STI, you can go online and order a test kit. It’s posted first class that day and you get a text to confirm the kit is on its way. Next day you receive the kit, complete the test at home and pop the kit back to SH:24 in the post,” says Leanne. “A few days later you get a text giving your results. If you need treatment, you can simply show up at an NHS sexual health clinic and show the receptionist your text. You will see a specialist clinician who will prescribe the necessary treatment. You get the necessary treatment as quickly as possible and with your confidentiality intact.”
SH:24 opened in March 2015 and since then, figures show that relative to population residents of SE16 have used the service only sparingly. Leanne is keen to encourage more locals to use their service when needed. “Just keep our details near at hand,” she suggests. “If you need advice or more information, then you can turn to our up-to-date and clinically accurate resources on the site. And if you need support, information or a test kit, all it takes is a couple of clicks!”
Here’s a short video about how it works: How SH:24 works
More about sexual health services in Southwark here.