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10 August 2020

Help with sexual health without the need to visit a clinic

During the COVID-19 pandemic sexual health clinics have been offering  patients help and advice over the phone, as well as inviting them to send photos of their rashes, sores, bumps or lumps, to help with assessments.

Normally most patients would turn up at a clinic and simply walk-in, without an appointment, but Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust has been running its sexual health service differently since the end of March – with this resulting in benefits for both patients and colleagues.

Some of the changes could stay post-COVID, if long term improvements are seen, with the service continually analysing the data and adapting how it does things accordingly.

Probably the biggest change patients will have seen is that they are now asked to phone a clinic, rather than just walking in without an appointment.

Stephen Grice, Head of  KCHFT’s Sexual Health Service, said: “During lockdown we didn’t close the service, it carried on, as people were still having sex and still needed contraception. But, we introduced a new triage system.”

Patients phone a central team and are given an appointment slot. A clinician then phones and carries out a full consultation. The patient is then invited in for an examination or issued a prescription, if necessary.

Stephen said: “Before, with the walk in system, we would often have people turn up from 7.30am, hoping to be seen quickly when we opened at 8am, but because everyone else had the same idea, sometimes they would have to wait for up to three hours.

“This new system is better for patients, with average wait times for a call back in April and May being 25 minutes. This has recently gone up to 40 minutes as we’ve had a very busy period, but we are hoping this is just a blip – a bit like when hairdressers re-opened and there was a sudden rush.

“In the last week of July we had 1,500 calls, when in a typical week, we would have around 750. We’re looking at the data and will continually adapt how we do things, if we need to.

“With this new system many patients won’t need to visit the clinic, which some prefer.”

At the start of the lockdown the service, which covers east Kent and Medway, also partnered with a pharmacy chain so that electronic prescriptions could be sent to pharmacies, rather than people having to collect a prescription from a clinic.

The latest change in the service is the introduction of a digital image clinic, which is being trialled. You can send in images of a problem area and a clinician will call to discuss the issue.

Stephen said: “Patients think this is good. They can have a consultation from the comfort and privacy of their own home. They can pop over a picture during their lunchbreak and often we can diagnose from that.

“We have found this can be quite time heavy for us though, sending out policies, getting consents and waiting for replies. So, we are constantly reviewing this new service – along with all the changes we have made, to see what is the best way forward.”