Its been a long couple of years of covid, hitting all of us, but one thing that was definitely impacted by it all has been the NHS’s ability to provide a consistent sexual health screening service.
Here in Manchester, both of us felt this. We are both neg and on prep. I, Zalo, purchase my own prep online and have done for a number of years for convenience and ease of getting it since I first visited the website www.iwantprepnow.co.uk before the NHS was providing it to gay men because I knew I was at risk. Since then , after trials, the NHS can now provide it on a regular basis – its cheaper than the cost of treating HIV positive patients and in an ideal situation, everyone who is protected, and everyone who is on the correct HIV medication and undetectable means there is less transmission of the virus overall.
However, regular testing is key to this, and if you are taking prep, or having HIV treatment then its important that you can get regular appointments that suit you – I work Monday to Friday 9 thru 5, and Nutrix works shifts so again, the ability to get an appointment is key.
The Hathersage centre in Manchester has been struggling over the covid period. Key staff were moved to covid based operations and even ringing the clinic prompted for everyone to leave a message and you would be contacted back. Prescriptions for prep were extended to 6 months instead of 3, although testing of kidney functions every 3 months is still recommended.
The ability to get a normal sexual health checkup when i wasnt being prescribed prep however proved to be a nightmare for myself. Of course, when playing with other people it is only sensible to get tested regularly and after struggling to get an appointment.
Here is where my story begins, because I went looking for other services and low and behold sexual health services have been getting outsourced by NHS trusts for years now. In Manchester, the outsourcing is done by The Northern Contraception Sexual health service & HIV Service (thenorthernsexualhealth.co.uk)
I came across this service looking for a way to be privately tested called LetsGetChecked – I have actually been very impressed with it, and it offers a couple of advantages. You log on and you create an acccount on their website and there is even an app that allows you see your results, and connects with your phone health system (IOS or Android) where it can take you data and offer a range of tests (not all sexual related!) for the testing of your health. For men there is a Prostate and Hormone test that can be taken to check their levels, but for sexual health there are a range of tests at different costs dependent on what you want to be tested.
Now here is the point of my article, just so you dont miss it. These tests are expensive! For those that travelled and tried to get a covid test done, and saw the prices that were being charged, it really makes it clear to you that the 3 month check-ups that I took for granted at the Hathersage center cost a lot privately! Now obviously there is commercialism built into these prices, but if we do not appreciate the cost and use our public health services then we are likely to lose them too. The struggle with resource within the NHS now means that services like Sexual Health can all too well be outsourced to private companies, and we will soon see more of these services being offered from chemists and private online companies within the UK.
The first two tests that are offered are not really suitable for a gay mans regular check-up because if you are getting a test every 3 months which is recommended for gay men who have regular sex with other men, it should also include a HIV, Syphilis and a Hep test. So the test you need is the Standard 6 one that comes in at £119 – Over a course of a years testing that’s £476. Treatments aren’t included for most of what is found, if a test is positive, so this is only the diagnosis part and then you would need to contact your public sector NHS clinic or GP to continue with treatment.
For me, the pack that turned up was a discreet letter box shaped box, similar to the Graze boxes that I used to order in work for regular healthy treats. The pack consisted of 2 sample bottles that needed to be returned. One for urine, and a small box and pipette to help with the collection, along with a blood vial that required the use of the dreaded finger-prick devices to squeeze enough blood out of my finger to fill the vial to the correct mark.
There are very good instructions included and also you need to consider the postal service when sending back your samples. First of all, their labs aren’t open every day, so they recommend that you register your pack and then tell them the date you are going to use the pack and send in your samples. By registering first they can advise you if the day is going to be an issue – for example, its no good sending in the sample on a Friday when its going to take longer to get to their labs and probably sit in a post box until Monday and arrive on Tuesday. They need the sample preferably within 48 hours so, Mon-Thur sample taking and immediate posting in the morning are your best bet.
The app informs you when the sample has arrived at their lab, and within 24 hours I had my results clearly displayed on the app.
You can then review the in-depth lab report which shows the details of each of the tests they have performed and the status of them.
Its worth noting that Northern sexual health clinics do offer a similar postal pack for testing and sending in your samples – I have not used this service but would welcome feedback on here via comments regarding what you get back.
For me, the app report was a huge piece of mind and at a time I needed a check, but regular testing is still required for me as someone having regular unprotected sex, even though I’m on prep. Condoms are still the number one protector against most STI’s when having sex, but informed decisions are best made with the people you are having sex with.
The one thing that I did like about the app, is that in theory I can use app to show any potential sex mate that I am regular testing and the date of my last test. Given that covid testing has given us a covid app, also showing the dates of testing, the testing dates that you enter into Grindr for example are not evidential of actual testing taking place, so I wish the NHS would actually give you some sort of testing app that could then give you something to check in terms of a partners suitability before you then have sex with them. Its no guarantee, but it does show evidence that some health testing is a thought in their mind.
I’ve written this to talk about the service and if its of interest to you there is something that I can offer as part of their “Give £30 Get £30″ promotion, and if you use the link here, you will get £30 off your first test, and I will get £30 off my next test”.
Give the service a try if you are too scared to go and get tested at a regular NHS screening clinic. Testing is key to everyone’s safety, and a healthy sexual lifestyle.