Royal Victoria Hospital can't cope with Northern Ireland STI crisis, warns top medic
Screening services for sexually transmitted infections in Northern Ireland are not fit for purpose, the chief medical officer has said ahead of a major conference.
Experts have also said demand for sexual health services far outweighs availability.
The UK's leading clinicians will converge on Belfast for the first time for the annual Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health annual conference this week.
It will throw the deteriorating state of sexual health provision here under the spotlight.
Dr Wallace Dinsmore, a specialist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, said: "Every week, we receive 2,000 phone calls from people seeking appointments to the GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinic in the Royal, but we only have 150 appointments to give out."
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride, who will open the conference, said: "The current GUM screening model is not fit for purpose, we are looking into building alternatives. We do need to address the issues around testing services as a matter of urgency."
It is understood the waiting time for non-emergency appointments is up to 10 weeks.
International bio-tech company Randox Laboratories, headquartered in Co Antrim, believes it has the answer with its new Confidante kit. It is a home test kit to detect 10 of the most common sexually transmitted infections simultaneously.
Dr Martin Crockard, head of molecular research at the Crumlin firm, said:"We know better technology is the key to managing the screening 'crisis'. We have created a testing kit, which people can use in the privacy of their own homes, or perhaps even within the NHS, helping those struggling to get appointments and reducing waiting times.
"Our technology prompts rapid diagnosis, and prompt treatment.
"We seek to improve sexual health overall, and to see a reduction of the burden on our NHS colleagues. Ours is a solution for Northern Ireland, made in Northern Ireland."