Chalmers Street Sexual Health Service

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011 @ 10:08AM

Chalmers Street is the new NHS Lothian Sexual Health Service, bringing together Family Planning and GUM services into one new facility. The new service now offers everything from emergency contraception to menopause clinics. Free condoms, PEPs and Chlamydia tests. Coploscopys to Gay Men’s Health. Termination referrals and support services for those who have experienced sexual abuse.

Serious, sensitive and complex services serving a broad community  of all different ages and backgrounds.

I have received a few complaints from constituents about the brand new service, which they in principle very much welcome. Things like the phone never being answered when people ring up for appointments. A two stage queuing system. A concern that front desk staff have a family planning background and therefore lack the necessary training that comes with GUM services.

I wrote to the NHS Board back in July with these concerns and received this reply which promised to look into the matter and come back to me with a full response - which I have yet to receive. A few weeks ago, I requested to visit the service so that I could see the new facility myself and put some of the questions I had directly to staff. The NHS Board refused my visit request saying that it would be inappropriate for me to visit before the Public Health Minister Michael Matheson officially opens the service. I think that’s quite frankly ridiculous.

So I then wrote to Michael Matheson, explaining that I wasn’t allowed to visit the facility until he had and if he planned to go, could he raise the above issues for me? Today I received a Ministerial notification from the Scottish Government saying that Michael Matheson is due to visit the facility tomorrow, so here’s hoping we’ll get some answers soon.

On a slightly broader note, I was recently passing the new facility whilst out campaigning in the Edinburgh City Centre by election, so I decided just to stick my head in the door and see the facility for myself. I was immediately struck by the boldness of the sign.

I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I welcome the frankness: “Chalmers Street Sexual Health Clinic” - no room for euphemisms or acronyms here. But on the other, I wonder whether it’s a little too direct for people accesssing the service for the first time, or for those concerned about the stigma that is still too sadly associated with sexual health?

As I was walking out of the service, having just stuck my head in the door, I sauntered past 3 school girls who had worked up the courage to go in. As they walked past the sign, one said to the other “People will think we’re total skanks going in here…”

Those three girls still went in the door, but I wonder how many others have got as far as the front door before turning back in embarrassment? I’d like to know whether the board considered these issues when it designed the new facility, maybe one day I’ll get to ask myself?

p.s. If you’re interested in Sexual Health issues, you might want to take a look at this letter from the Education Secretary explaining how Sexual Health education will be taught in Schools under Curriculum for Excellence.

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