London sexual health clinic, Dean Street Express, has confirmed that it has slashed the number of appointment slots it now offers. Instead, the Soho clinic wants people without symptoms to order STI home-testing kits.
Yesterday we exclusively revealed that the clinic – the busiest such clinic in Europe – was cutting the number of appointment slots if was offering from 350 a day to just 75.
Its services became hugely popular since its launch in 2014 as a sister venue to the nearby 56 Dean Street. Initially, it welcomed walk-in appointments, with the promise of delivering results to STI tests in just a few hours.
However, its services proved so popular that it quickly became overwhelmed by demand.
In the last couple of years, it moved to taking advance appointments only. By late last year, around 1,500 people a day were applying for the 300 appointment slots. Given its location, a large number of its clients are LGBTI.
Now, due to financial cutbacks, it’s slashed its appointments further. A spokesperson for the clinic confirmed the change in services.
‘We are really sorry about this’
‘London’s sexual health services are commissioned by Local Authorities rather than the NHS,’ they said. ‘One aspect of the new contract is for people to use a new online home testing service rather than attend a clinic. Each clinic has a target for switching people from clinic to online over the next few years.
‘In response, Dean Street Express has been redesigned. It now offers walk in services for people who have symptoms of an STI and all those who need treatment for gonorrhoea and chlamydia.
‘It provides support and monitoring for people needing HIV PrEP prevention and follow up care for those taking post exposure prophylaxis. In addition we offer services not available online, such as Hepatitis and HPV immunisations.
‘The number of bookable slots for a routine check-up has been reduced significantly, as it is anticipated that over time more people will be using a home test kit and will only seek an appointment after receiving the results from their home test. There is a link on our website to order the home test kit.
‘Demand for our services is significantly higher than the number of appointments we are funded to offer. We’re aware of the frustration that some of our users are experiencing.
‘We are really sorry about this and want to reassure the community that we are doing all we can to maintain access to those who need us the most and at the highest risk.’
GSN has asked for clarification on what targets Dean Street Express has been set in relation to home-testing.
‘Home-testing may not be suitable for people who feel concerned about parents, partners’
Those working in the field of sexual health expressed concern at the cutbacks. Matthew Hodson, of HIV support organization, NAM, notes a sharp drop in the number of HIV diagnosis in the capital in the last couple of years. He attributes this partly to encouraging gay men to regularly test for HIV.
‘The progress that we have made in reducing HIV cases may be reversed if people are not able to test. It’s vital that barriers aren’t erected to accessing HIV testing.’
He said that home-testing will not suit everyone.
‘Home testing is going to be more convenient for many people, but there are advantages to a clinic test that such services cannot meet. These include discussions about and access to HPV, hepatitis A and B vaccination and pre and post-test counselling.
‘Also, home-testing may not be suitable for people who feel concerned about parents, partners or others who they share their homes with, finding out.
Dr Olwen Williams, President of the British Association for Sexual Health (BASHH), told GSN, her organization ‘expresses disappointment in the cuts to the public health budget as sexual health services play a key role in protecting the health of the nation.
‘Over the past four years, planned spending on sexual health services has fallen by £64 million, equivalent to 10 per cent, leading to clinic closures and a worrying increase in the number of patients being unable to access the care they need.
‘Syphilis rates are at their highest levels since the 1950s and gonorrhoea levels have also risen markedly in England.’
Westminster Council: We’re broadening services
Dean Street Express derives part of its funding from the Borough of Westminster. Yesterday, Westminister councillor Heather Acton, Conservative Cabinet Member for Family Services and Public Health, told GSN changes at Dean Street did not represent a reduction in the delivery of services.
‘We have in fact broadened services to include a pan-London online sexual health service for residents not experiencing symptoms of an STI.
‘We have increased sexual health screening by 7 per cent, and condoms and other forms of contraception, alongside confidential advice and support with sexual health have been made more widely available.
‘The clinicians at Dean St have configured their services to deliver the best quality provision for people who are at high risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.’