Sexual Health Dorset provision during the COVID-19 pandemic

Sexual Health Dorset is still open for business.  However, in response to the COVID-19 epidemic, we have made some changes to the way we provide some of our services.  We are minimising non-essential face-to-face contact to protect you and our staff, but please rest assured that if you need to be seen we will be able to see you safely.  Call us for advice on 0300 303 1948.

COVID-19 has changed life for all of us.

It has made some people wonder if it’s safe to date or have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Globally, people are being asked to stop hooking up in person. Reducing physical contact with people will reduce transmission of COVID-19, however we need to strengthen our social connections through other means.  Please see this advice from HIV Scotland and New York City.

Even COVID-19 clouds have a silver lining.  Fewer hook-ups since lockdown have resulted in a huge reduction in new HIV infections and other STIs.  This has given us a unique opportunity to prevent the chain of HIV transmission.

Almost all of those who are living with HIV have been infected by someone who doesn’t know they have the infection.  HIV can be prevented.  People who are not infected, but are at high risk of HIV, can protect themselves through taking PrEP.  People who are diagnosed with HIV, and are on effective treatment, cannot pass on the infection.

Get tested, and help stop HIV transmission. Sexual Health Dorset has partnered with SH:24 to enable Dorset residents to have free access to home kits for HIV and STI testing.  Visit the SH:24 website for more information.

Some people may be happily living with their partners, but worried about access to reliable contraception.  At the moment, we are only providing contraceptive pills and emergency coils.  See here for advice, or visit the SH:24 website to order some types of contraception online.

Some people may be living in fear, with abusive partners or other family members.  You First provide support to anyone affected by domestic violence or abuse.  You can call them on 0800 032 5204.  If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 999 then either dial 55 or just give a cough, and the police will attend.

Please see below for details of other Sexual Health Dorset services.

Appointments

There are no walk in services at any of our clinics in Dorset.  Clinics in Weymouth and Bournemouth are open, all of our other community clinics have temporarily closed.  Changes may occur at short notice. Please check the website regularly.

If you have an existing booked appointment, please do not attend unless you have been specifically asked to (for example those attending the PrEP clinic).  A doctor or nurse will telephone you to assess whether you need to be seen.

Opening times are being reduced due to staff shortages. Most clinics are only open from 8am-5pm on weekdays.

If you have symptoms, need advice about contraception or think you need to see someone urgently about a sexual health issue, please call 0300 303 1948.  You will be contacted by a nurse or doctor to assess whether your problem can be managed through a telephone consultation, or whether you need to be seen.

Contraception

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, we are minimising non-essential face to face contact with healthcare staff, to protect both you and our staff.  This means that we will not be able to provide all methods of contraception.  We recommend that this is not the time to start a new sexual relationship.  If you are in a relationship and are concerned about renewing or starting contraception, please see here for advice.

Sexual Health Dorset has partnered with SH:24 to enable Dorset residents to have access to free contraception, which can be posted to your home.  Visit the website for more information.  The range of methods of contraception that can be safely provided without a face to face consultation is limited.

STI testing and treatment

Sexual Health Dorset is working with SH:24 to enable Dorset residents to have access to free STI testing.  Test kits can be ordered on line via their website SH:24.

In some cases the SH:24 clinical team may contact you to confirm a few details.  Orders will arrive in a plain, letterbox friendly envelope by First Class Royal Mail.  Order before 3pm for delivery the next working day.

The kit will contain instructions on how to obtain the samples, and a return envelope to return them by post.  You will be texted the result within 1-3 days of the samples being received.

SH:24’s expert clinicians are available to advise and support you by text message, phone or email.  If you are diagnosed with chlamydia, you can be sent free treatment in the post, and a member of the team will help you with partner notification.  If you are diagnosed with another STI, it is very likely that you will need to attend a clinic for treatment, and a member of the Sexual Health Dorset team will contact you to make arrangements for this.

If you have recently developed severe low abdominal (if female) or testicular pain, you should be seen in the clinic, to exclude conditions such as an ectopic pregnancy or twisted testicle.  If you have a profuse discharge from the penis, you should also be seen.  Please call 0300 303 1948 to speak to a nurse.

HIV treatment and care

There is currently no evidence that people living with HIV are more likely to catch COVID-19 than anyone else.

COVID-19 infection is likely to be worse in those with a ‘weakened immune system’.  This does not mean that all people with HIV are considered at increased risk.  Those on HIV treatment with a good CD4 count and an undetectable viral load are not considered to have weakened immune systems.  A ‘good’ CD4 count means anything over 200.

If your CD4 count is less than 200, if you’re not on treatment or if you have a detectable viral load, then it's particularly important that you follow national guidance to reduce the risk of catching the virus.  For further advice please see Terence Higgins Trust or British HIV Association.

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, we are minimising non-essential face to face contact with healthcare staff, to protect both you and our staff.  The majority of consultations will be undertaken by telephone.  If your viral load has been consistently undetectable and your liver and kidney function stable, we will defer routine blood monitoring.  HIV medications will be sent by home delivery for the vast majority of those who are on treatment.

To avoid unplanned treatment interruptions, when you start your last month of your medications, please call the clinic to let us know.  Call 0300 303 1948 and press option 1 if you usually attend the Royal Bournemouth Hospital for treatment and care, and option 2 if you usually attend the Weymouth clinic for treatment and care.

PrEP

If you are taking PrEP (either through the PrEP Impact trial, or purchased online), to reduce your risk of becoming infected with HIV, it will still be available through your clinic or on-line.  See the PrEP Impact trial website for an update of the trial.

We do recommend that this is not a good time to be hooking up with a new sexual partner.  Reducing physical contact with people will reduce transmission of COVID-19.  However we need to strengthen our social connections through other means.  Please see this advice from HIV Scotland HIV Scotland and New York City.

If you are participating in the PrEP Impact trial and wish to continue, there will be some changes in the service provision.  You will be asked to have your three-monthly STI screen through SH:24 and your consultation will be conducted by telephone.  You will still need to attend the clinic to collect your supply of medication, but you may be provided with a six rather than three month supply.

Psychosexual medicine

Our sexual problems clinics are not currently conducting face to face consultations.  We are able to offer consultations by telephone, but recognise that this may not be suitable for everyone.  Please call 0300 303 1948 to discuss the options.

Chronic / recurrent genital problems

This includes genital skin problems, recurrent thrush and herpes, and chronic pelvic pain.  In many cases we will be able to offer consultations by telephone, and either arrange for you to pick up your medication from a clinic or post a prescription for you to collect from your local pharmacy.  If you have a follow-up appointment booked in the next few months, please do not attend.  You will be assessed by telephone and only asked to attend the clinic for examination if absolutely necessary.