How COVID-19 Has Changed the Sexual Healthcare Sector
Sexual health services were some of the first services to close their doors for face-to-face drop-in sessions and appointments in March 2020, to both limit the spread of COVID-19 and to flex staff to other areas of the NHS to address the rising demand in critical care.
Lockdowns and tiered regional restrictions on social interactions had an obvious knock-on effect on sexual activity, but there remained a demand for sexual health services across the UK. Service disruption has catalysed long term changes, forcing providers to adapt working practices to meet the sexual and reproductive health needs of local people.
What did a typical pre-pandemic sexual health service look like?
Local authorities are responsible for commissioning most sexual health services to meet the needs of their respective populations. Geography, demographics, budget, infection prevalence, pregnancy rates, and abortion rates all play a crucial role in determining how a sexual health service is delivered. An effective sexual health service for the people of Tower Hamlets would simply not be fit for purpose in rural Northumberland, e.g., a higher concentration of commercial sex workers in Tower Hamlets would require concerted outreach work in collaboration with local stakeholders.
A sexual health service should be confidential, equitable, and accessible to all – empowering the local population to live happy, healthy sex lives through high-quality service delivery. The approach should be universal but proportionate to need with an accentuated emphasis on increased access to those at the highest risk of sexual ill health, specifically:
Co-production is crucial to ensure that socially marginalised groups are able to raise concerns over access and for service providers to better understand how they can improve service quality. This is especially pertinent in the wake of the pandemic, with countless services still operating with limited in-person capacity, acting as a potential barrier.
Some service providers have seized the opportunity to reform working practices, effectively ring-fencing clinical time for complex cases. Phone triage for most service providers has been an exceptionally useful tool to guide people to the most appropriate solution whether it’s online testing, a clinical appointment, or referral to other services.
Multiple entry points into a sexual health service are crucial to ensure there is visible and accessible provision for all. Providers that already offered a comprehensive online testing provision for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV, and syphilis were better suited than others to react to COVID-19. Service providers should strive to provide a gold standard online offering, investing resource into a digital service that maximises reach and convenience.
Remote consultations via video are another important development that saves time for service users and clinicians. Investing in secure, scalable technology enables clinicians to interact with service users in an environment where people are more likely to feel safe and comfortable. Nevertheless, with an increasing number of service users being directed to remote resources, service providers should have additional, robust safeguarding procedures to protect children and vulnerable adults to ensure no one falls through the net.
Accompanying this focus on digital and remote solutions is the tacit recognition that upskilling and blending work roles not only drives efficiencies but improves service user outcomes. For example, health support workers carrying out basic chlamydia screening ensures individuals are seen promptly through reducing waiting times and focusses clinical time on complex cases or sensitive issues e.g., delivering a HIV positive diagnosis.
The pandemic has seismically changed the way that sexual health services across the UK operate. Investment in a hybrid approach that results in a more efficient service delivery model and better face-to-face care is undoubtedly the future of sexual health service provision.
At HealthBid, our team of bid writing professionals have written numerous bids since the outbreak of the pandemic and understand how sexual health services need to evolve because of COVID-19. We can help your organisation to write compelling tenders that demonstrate to Commissioners how your sexual health service are person-centred and future-proofed.
Written by Osian Spencer, Bid Writer
To find out more about our services and how we can help you write winning tenders, contact email@example.com or call us on 0113 479 0803.