Irish Times: STI sufferers forced to travel to other counties, charities claim

Irish Times: STI sufferers forced to travel to other counties, charities claim

Some people have to travel to different counties to avail of screening for sexually transmitted infections due to a shortage of public STI clinics in parts of the country, charities have claimed.

There are currently 23 HSE-funded STI clinics in the State, based in 16 counties, figures from the health service show.

Ten counties – Cavan, Kildare, Kilkenny, Leitrim, Longford, Meath, Offaly, Roscommon, Wexford and Wicklow – have no public STI clinics.

A survey of the clinics, published last year, showed that of the 23 clinics, seven of them have had to cancel sessions as a result of people being on annual leave. Waterford has to cancel approximately 12 clinics per year due to this issue, the report said.

Some 18 of the clinics also reported waiting lists for patients, ranging from two to seven weeks. The STI clinic in University Hospital Kerry had the longest waiting list with seven weeks, while a Dublin-based clinic had a waiting list of up to six weeks.

Adam Shanley, the programme manager for men who have sex with men (MSM) in HIV Ireland, said that greater funding and resources is necessary to “alleviate some of the stress” on the system.

“We know that people are having to travel to other counties to access services, and others attempting to access services may potentially be turned away due to capacity issues,” Mr Shanley said.

Capacity levels

“What we need to be sure of is that people have access to their sexual health and wellbeing needs in places that are convenient to them. There are places in the country where travelling certain amounts of distances is acceptable and it’s understood by people, but for others it might not be so.”

Mr Shanley warned that the current capacity levels could have a negative impact on the roll out of PreP, a drug which prevents HIV from spreading through sexual partners.

“If we’re going to make this incredible HIV-prevention tool available, part of that solution is to have three-monthly – every quarter – access to sexual health services,” he said.

“For that to happen, if we have services that are already at capacity, to add an extra level of people to it, then services would really need to be properly funded and resourced.”

The Sexual Health Centre, a charity based in Cork, said the number of inquiries it received about screening increased by almost 80 per cent last year, from 1,600 in 2017 to 2,822 in 2018.

Removing stigma

Nadia Reckmann, from the Sexual Health Centre, said there was a need to increase capacity to meet the increase in demand. The charity also reported that some service users are coming from outside Cork.

“We are always encouraging people to get more testing, and we are slowly removing the stigma around sexual health, so there’s a lot more awareness and a lot more people getting tested,” Ms Reckmann said.

There was a 7 per cent increase in the number of STI cases diagnosed in the State last year when compared with 2017, according to figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

A spokeswoman for the HSE said work with existing sexual health services is ongoing to “improve the availability of quality prevention, testing and treatment services available”.

“STI/HIV testing is also available throughout the country in a variety of community settings, such as student health services, community NGOs, hospitals and GPs,” the spokeswoman added.

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