Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland sexual health services 'not fit for purpose' warn experts

On Thursday, the UK’s leading sexual health clinicians, converge on the Waterfront Hall for the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health’s annual scientific conference. It is the first time the conference has been held in Belfast and it is likely that it won’t pass without controversy; with abortion, transgender sexual health, porn and the sexual needs of older people all on the agenda.

While these seminars will no doubt grab the headlines, some local experts attending the conference say the deteriorating state of sexual health provision in Northern Ireland needs to be in the spotlight. 

NI LOSING THE STI BATTLE

Despite the Department of Health’s strategy on sexual health, STIs are on the rise, including the ‘Big 3’; Chlamydia, Gonorrhoea and Syphilis which was almost eradicated but which is making a comeback; all of this combined with the continuing rise in diagnosis of HIV is causing the system to buckle. It is understood that waiting time for non-emergency appointments is up to 8-10 weeks, with the Health Minister Edwin Poots, admitting that this is “of concern” and in need of “renewed focus”, in addition, the Chief Medical officer, Dr. Michael McBride who is opening the FSRH conference, has said publicly that the current screening service is “not fit for purpose”.

Dr Wallace Dinsmore GUM, specialist at the Royal Victoria Hospital is delivering a key seminar at the Conference, speaking recently at a sexual health event in Stormont, Dr Dinsmore alluded to issues with the STI screening service in Northern Ireland: “Every week, we receive 2000 phone calls from people seeking appointments to the GUM clinic in the Royal, but we only have 150 appointments to give out”…

So what happens to the 93% of people who can’t get an appointment?  The question of enquiries and appointments to GUM clinics across Northern Ireland was put to the Department of Health by South Antrim Ulster Unionist Danny Kinahan MLA, who also asked about waiting times – the Department responded by saying that it does not collect that information and it “could only be provided at disproportionate cost.”

TOPICAL IN STIs

The closing seminar of the conference, which ends on Friday evening, considers ‘What is topical in STIs in Northern Ireland’. Experts hope that this will provide an opportunity to focus on, and start to tackle, the STI crisis in Northern Ireland – and consider how new technologies can help turn NI’s beleaguered STI service around. Active research is underway to find faster and more accurate ways to detect STIs, while big pharma invests millions seeking silver bullets to treat patients. The biggest problem faced by clinicians is accessing quick, effective diagnostics – enabling prompt treatment. Such diagnostics must be rapid and ideally cover the majority of common STIs, as some are asymptomatic.

International bio-tech company Randox Laboratories, headquartered in Co Antrim, believes it has the answer with its new Confidante kit, the only home test kit to detect 10 of the most common sexually transmitted infections simultaneously. Dr Martin Crockard is the head of molecular research at the Crumlin-based firm: “We know that 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 see a reduction of the burden on our NHS colleagues. We stand by to assist. Ours is a solution for Northern Ireland, made in for Northern Ireland.”

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health’s annual scientific conference commences at the Waterfront Hall on Thursday at 0930.

For more information please visit www.confidantetest.com

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