COVID-19 Sexual Health update

Last updated 09 October 2020

The current situation regarding COVID-19 has meant that changes have had to be made to the delivery of core sexual and reproductive health services in Suffolk.

This page aims to provide up to date information about service delivery, to ensure that people supporting members of the public, and the public themselves, know what services are available and how to access them.

In addition to this webpage, urgent information will also be communicated via email via the Suffolk Sexual Health Network distribution list. If you are not on the distribution list and would like to receive these communications then please contact Adelle Stopher or telephone 01473 260079.

iCaSH integrated sexual health service

To help protect staff and others, iCaSH are asking all service users with a new continuous cough OR a high temperature (of 37.8 degrees centigrade or higher), to please not visit the service and self-isolate for 14 days.

The three iCaSH sexual health hubs in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft are open, but have changed the ways they are working:

  • No sit and wait clinics - to help reduce the number of people sitting in waiting rooms, and therefore helping to prevent the spread of the virus, you will no longer be able to attend drop-in clinics where you sit and wait to be seen
  • Call up before you turn up - All patients are asked to call the clinic before attending. The number to call is 0300 300 3030
  • Wearing face masks - To help prevent the spread of Covid-19, all patients are now being asked to wear a face mask when attending clinic
  • Telephone consultations - All patients will have a conversation with a member of staff over the phone to determine what support is needed. This will help the clinic staff to help you quickly, and in the safest way possible. You may then be called in for a face to face appointment, but they will try their best to help you remotely to avoid face to face contact
  • Posting out medications - for some treatments, to save people having to come into clinic, medications may be able to be posted directly to you. This is new and not something that was offered before

Women can still access contraception, including emergency contraception, but the consultation will take place on the phone. The number of staff on clinic sites has been reduced to make sure they can maintain social distancing measures. For this reason there may be a slight wait for some services, but the clinic staff will aim to see people as quickly as possible.

Reviews for people living with HIV aged over 70 will be undertaken via telephone consultations (including agreeing arrangements for delivery of medication).

Patients who do not have symptoms but wish to access STI screening and be tested for sexually transmitted infections, please use the Express Test home testing kit which can be ordered online.

Message for people who are HIV positive

Please be assured that there is currently no evidence that people living with HIV are at any greater risk than the general public of either getting coronavirus or becoming unwell due to coronavirus. patients therefore do not need to attend the clinic for additional blood tests to check CD4 counts. Please follow the NHS guidance about how best to protect yourselves and others from coronavirus.

Please also be reassured that maintaining a seamless supply of anti-retroviral medication to people will be prioritised even if they are unable to come into the clinic.

We will continue to update this advice if Public Health guidance changes.

Terrence Higgins Trust

The Suffolk THT office will be closed until further notice in response to the need for staff to work from home

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea samples are still being tested and results will still be sent out as normal. Patients who have not received their results after 2 weeks of sending their sample are advised to email for their results, and to avoid calling the office (this email address is printed on the tear off slip at the bottom of each testing form).

If young people are requesting chlamydia kits from organisations who have run out of testing kits, they should be instructed to order a postal kit via Young and Free

  • Terrence Higgins Trust will continue making free condoms available to people in Suffolk, to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  • If you are an organisation that provides the c-card,  THT will continue to provide you with resources to distribute. Place your C-Card order via the usual method Young and Free (or via PharmOutcomes for community pharmacies) or email THT and they post supplies to you as usual.

  • Condoms will also be freely available by post to anyone aged 16 or over, and also for men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who identify as transgender and people of black and other ethnic minority groups.

    • To get hold of free condoms by post, you can complete the THT online order form for free condoms OR  email THT and request a pack of six regular condoms. THT will need a name, age and full postal address including postcode in order to send condoms by Royal Mail in a discrete envelope. With consent, key/support workers can place an order on behalf of a person aged 16 or over.

  • Terrence Higgins Trust Suffolk are also offering Free postal self-sampling HIV tests 

  • All training sessions run by THT Suffolk have been moved online until further notice. Delegates can sign up to multi-agency training on Eventbrite or Suffolk CPD as normal. In house training can be arranged but risk assessments will need to be in place prior to this, so please give more notice than usual.

  • Outreach sessions are now happening with COVID risk assessments in place - if you would like THT to visit your school/ college/ group, please email THT with details of the type of session you require (drop-in/assembly/lesson etc.) and a copy of your risk assessment. Again, please leave plenty of time for this so we can work with our head office in providing the safest possible experience for you and your service users. 

  • NEW:  THT nationally are rolling out a series of webinars throughout Autumn to support people living with HIV who may be worried about job security, redundancy and unemployment.  To find out more information please visit THT work and skills page.  

Pharmacy provision of sexual and reproductive health services

Community Pharmacy teams have had a significant increase in workload associated with maintaining supplies of medicines and supporting patients with advice. They may also be short staffed due to staff self- isolating.

However, pharmacies are working hard to provide face to face services in a Covid safe manner throughout their core hours. They continue to provide the sexual health services they normally deliver, if at all possible, but patients requiring these services are advised to ring the pharmacy before attending to ensure the service they need can be delivered in a timely manner.

These services include emergency contraception (the morning after pill), chlamydia treatment and chlamydia testing.

To locate your nearest pharmacy, please visit NHS service search: find a pharmacy

Online HIV self-sampling service

The online HIV self-sampling service allows residents of Suffolk over the age of 16 to order free home testing kits for HIV and syphilis. This is provided by SH:24, and will continue to be available as usual. SH:24 remain committed to maintaining quick turn around times for the delivery and processing of testing kits, however external factors may make it difficult to achieve this 100% of the time.

Testing kits can be accessed via Free Testing website for HIV kits.

The Ferns - sexual assault referral centre

The Ferns are working to ensure they are able to continue to support both new and existing service users who have experienced sexual assault.

Staff from the Ferns are mostly working from home, and have put in place social distancing measures within the SARC to prevent the spread of infection. This means that staff will carry out a thorough assessment with all clients over the phone or virtually prior to anyone attending for examination. Where safe to do so, a face to face meeting will be organised where required in a suitable environment that adheres to social distancing.

The ISVAs (independent sexual violence advisors) will be working from home and will continue to support individuals via telephone, email, Skype and Zoom.

The team are still accepting new referrals and can be contacted by email ISVAs at the Ferns as well as calling the ISVAs directly on 07866 142139, should there be any questions about the service.

Please be patient if it takes a little longer for the team to respond as they will be prioritising their workload as the situation evolves.

The SARC helpline 0300 123 5058 will continue to be staffed as normal.

Ormiston Families' YouCanBe service position

Where possible, YouCanBe staff are now working from their normal offices. However, this isn’t possible in all cases. Volunteering Matters (Ipswich) is still closed. Boston Lodge (Lowestoft) is now open and being used on a regular basis to see clients.

Practitioners working from home are still supporting clients but are offering a remote service. As far as possible, work is being adapted to suit remote contact, including relationships and sex education, emotional regulation, grounding, signposting and support accessing other services.

For Practitioners working from home, face-to-face contact is still possible in the majority of cases, especially where it’s appropriate to meet clients at their residence or in the community.

New referrals are being accepted and being assessed by teams of Practitioners to ensure they are appropriate and that, given the Covid restrictions, we are still able to offer a meaningful and safe level of support. Location-specific waiting lists based on caseload still apply.

To refer to YouCanBe Ipswich, please contact Mel Purves

To refer to YouCanBe Lowestoft and Suffolk Coastal, please contact Jane Grand

Useful resources

Advice for women seeking contraceptive services 
iCaSH sexual health service page Suffolk County Council Coronavirus Information Page

If you have any questions, service updates or useful information in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Adelle Stopher