by Kate Ebbutt
Through Sexual Health Week 2021, here at Preventx we are reflecting on how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted how people take care of their sexual health. Last week, Public Health England published their review of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), showing that newly diagnosed STIs are down by a third and that internet consultations doubled.
Way back in March 2020, as sexual health service staff were rapidly redeployed to the Covid response and clinic appointments were limited to those in the most urgent need of sexual health care, we leapt into action to work with our NHS and local authority partners to adapt our services to ensure service users had access to high quality sexual health services.
For the first-time, we were able to work closely with our clinical partners to implement an online triage which enabled users with mild symptoms to test online, with users with more acute symptoms being triaged into clinic. This enabled us to safely support many more service users and take pressure off clinics.
As the largest provider of remote sexual health testing in the UK, we know that sexual health services and screening should be convenient, reliable and a normal part of looking after your health. Having our own in-house laboratory gives us complete control of everything we do, meaning that our service wasn’t impacted when other labs were taken over with COVID testing.
We have seen an increase of more than 50% in the tests people have ordered through our services since the pandemic started. This is partly because we now allow some people with symptoms to use our services and it is partly because there were fewer in-person options. Also, throughout the pandemic, remote testing has become even more normalised as people now routinely carry out tests for Covid-19 at home.
We know there is a concern about digital inequalities, and that remote testing could contribute to the widening of gaps in sexual health inequalities between the most and the least deprived. We looked at the people who were accessing our services before and during the pre-pandemic and found that there was a 70% increase in orders from gay men, and a 65% increase in orders from gay women.
We saw increases in orders from all ethnic minority groups, and non-binary, trans women, trans men users all had a more than a 90% increase since the pandemic began. Importantly, when looking at the access for people living in the most deprived areas there was a more than 65% increase in orders from the most deprived 20% of people (i.e. deciles 1 and 2).
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that online sexual health and reproductive services can be used by clinicians to provide remote patient management for simple and complex cases, only triaging patients into their clinics when absolutely appropriate.
We believe that everything is better when you work together. We listen closely as we adapt and integrate.
Preventx has been at the forefront of this innovation, working hand-in-hand with NHS partners to develop solutions that are not only clinically robust, but easy-to-use. We are excited to see what the future holds for sexual health testing.