Sunderland sexual health services may move amid patient ‘stigma’ over ‘walk of shame’

Sexual health services at Sunderland's Royal Hospital could move to city centre location.
Sexual health services at Sunderland's Royal Hospital could move to city centre location.
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Sunderland’s sexual health services could move to a city centre hub after concerns that their current location creates “stigma” around treatment.

Their current base at two locations in Sunderland Royal Hospital are also seen as a “barrier” for young people.

Earlier this month the hospital’s Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) service, where people are examined and treated for sexually transmitted diseases, was labelled as a “very obvious building” with anyone using it feeling they had made a “walk of shame”.

The potential move to one site comes as new figures show the state of sexual health among young people in the city.

In 2016, 60 per cent of diagnoses of new sexually transmitted infections in Sunderland were in young people aged 15-24 years – compared to 51 per cent across England.

In the same 12 months, the chlamydia detection rate per 100,000 young people aged 15-24 years in Sunderland was 1,699 – compared to 1,882 per 100,000 in England.

However, gonorrhoea diagnoses rose above the national average over the same period at 81.5 per 100,000 population – compared to the 78.8 rate in England.

Sunderland City Council’s (SCC) health and wellbeing scrutiny committee has now heard about plans to operate under an “integrated” model.

This will include a 24/7 online service to help direct patients to correct treatments and a “direct access pathway” for drop-in or booked appointments.

At the moment the Contraception and Sexual Health Services (CASH) and the GUM service are provided by Sunderland City Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Council public health officer Lorraine Hughes told the committee the plans to move were informed by several rounds of feedback from users with the current location identified as an issue as far back as 2013-14.

While staff were praised in the service, the location was viewed as a “barrier” for young people with other issues including accessibility and long waiting times.

An online feedback survey in 2018 also highlighted hospital parking and opening hours as issues for GUM and CASH services.

Under the new proposals, the “integrated sexual health service” will provide a contraception service, screening and treatment and sexual health advice/ information in a city centre location.

Although no venue has been selected, minimum opening times of 9am-7pm, Monday to Friday and 9am-1pm on Saturday have been agreed.

Other proposals include outreach work with schools and the wider community alongside separate work to increase awareness and treatment around HIV.

The latest discussions follow just a week after the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Coun Louise Farthing, said that the current GUM service is a “very obvious building” with anyone using it feeling a “walk of shame”.

Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporting Service