HOME testing kits for STIs launched during lockdown have “revolutionised” sexual health services, a senior doctor at St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals has said.

The kits, which test for were chlamydia and gonorrhoea, were launched nationally earlier this year as sexual health clinics adapted their services because of the pandemic.

In addition to this, there is blood test kit you can order online that will test for HIV and syphilis.

“We’re hoping that we’ll engage with people we haven’t engaged with before,” said Dr Rebecca Thomson-Glover, a consultant at the sexual health clinic based in St Helens Hospital.

“That’s on the back of Covid, that people aren’t able to come in as much anyway, but it’s definitely revolutionised our service and that’s a national thing.

“It’s really good that the access has improved. People can still obviously come in and get tested if they want to and speak to us over the phone as well.”

Public Health England (PHE) recently released its annual data on STIs, which showed that gonorrhoea, syphilis and chlamydia all went up.

In St Helens, 135 cases of gonorrhoea were diagnosed in 2019, up from 134 a year earlier, and the highest since comparable local records began in 2012.

Syphilis levels have also risen to the highest on record, in line with the national trend.

The PHE figures show 21 cases of syphilis in 2019. The previous year saw a massive increase, with seven cases in 2017, jumping to 19 in 2018.

Dr Thomson-Glover believes the rise in STI diagnoses is down to a number of factors.

“We are testing more which is a good thing,” she said. “I think people are having more sex, people are having sex at younger age.

“Young people are more likely to be diagnosed with STI, although it’s everybody. And people aren’t using normal precautions.

“Normally – we always advise for everybody to use condoms – but I do think people’s attitudes towards sexual infections has slightly changed.”

Dr Thomson-Glover believes a lack of major public health campaigns, such as the bleak warnings for HIV/Aids in the 80s and 90s, have played a part in a change of attitudes.

St Helens is a low prevalence area for HIV, but it is still crucial for people to test for the virus, as catching it early can dramatically increase your life chances.

Dr Thomson-Glover said: “We used to have the tombstones for HIV, and that gave everyone such a shock. And we don’t really have those big public health campaigns anymore.

“There are charities that do promote all this but it’s not quite the same.

“On a positive note, our HIV testing has improved but we’re  still really need to get it out there to  test for things like HIV and pick it up early as  possible because the earlier you pick up your HIV the better you’re going to be.

“People are going to do extremely well. It’s only when you have it for a while and realise you’ve got it that your health can deteriorate.”

Another service in St Helens is the TAZ (Teenage Advice Zone) clinic at the Millennium Centre.

The service is currently operating on an appointment only basis for all 13 to 19-year-olds.

You can also call, WhatsApp or text the dedicated TAZ mobile number.

Regardless of how you access sexual health services, the most important thing is that you do access them, however best suits you.

Dr Thomson-Glover  said: “Whatever your age, you’re at risk of STIs. You don’t need to have any symptoms you can be totally asymptomatic.

“We are open, we’re still here, we’ve been here throughout lockdown.

“Everything now is done via telephone conversation, all confidential, and now we’ve set up a remote testing so you can just basically go to our website and you can order your postal STI kit, and that’s a swab for chlamydia and gonorrhoea. You can also have your HIV and syphilis test.

“They’re the four main ones we would encourage everybody to have.”

For more information about the sexual health services provided by St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, click here. 

For more information about TAZ, click here.