Sex in the city: Glasgow’s sexual health crisis

Credit: NHS

Holly Jennings
Views Editor

Amidst fears rising over the news that Glasgow is in the middle of the worst outbreak of HIV in the UK for the last 30 years, are Glasgow’s sexual health services up to mark?

Danny Zuko was right when he sang “summer lovin’, had me a blast.” After you’ve been bowling in the arcade, went strolling and drank lemonade, then there’s nothing left to do but finish your holiday off with a bang. But, what about when the sun goes down, the leaves fall from the trees, and suddenly something starts to itch, burn, or spot? It’s time to get checked.

In fact, it is more important than ever to do so. Glasgow is currently threatened with a sexual health crisis, with a “perfect storm” having brewed the worst HIV outbreak the city has seen for 30 years. Whilst the city’s crisis has much to do with its other demons, such as homelessness and drug use, it is easier than ever to catch something in the city.

Unlucky for its inhabitants, Glasgow has been ranked the second-worst city for sexual health in the UK. Despite the encouragement to get routinely checked, Glasgow’s people aren’t making the move to – but why? Perhaps it is something to do with the wait times for its services. Glasgow’s sexual health services are hosted by Sandyford, which provides a “sexual, reproductive and emotional health service across the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde”. Despite the services spanning across 14 clinics in total, the wait times for the services can be upwards of five weeks if you haven’t been told by a sexual partner you have something and are symptomless. However, this is no reason to avoid the check: according to the NHS, 70% of women and over 50% of men don’t recognise any of the symptoms of chlamydia. Although chlamydia can be treated very easily through a course of antibiotics, when left untreated, the infection can develop, which can lead to long-term health conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, epididymo-orchitis and, ultimately, infertility. In the long run, five weeks to wait isn’t a long time at all; however, if a person does have an STI go unnoticed, then that’s five more weeks of possibly spreading that infection. Other options available for Glasgow’s citizens are to visit your local GP, however not all practices offer more than chlamydia self-testing kits and patients are often referred to Sandyford if they want any further tests.

For young people over the age of 13 and under the age of 18, all clinics offer a walk-in service, and for gay, bisexual and all men who have sex with men, there is a drop-in service offered once per week at the main clinic. Both of these drop-in sessions are vital as both groups are some of the greatest at risk; however, the same sort of service should apply to the remainder of the population as well. If we consider the theory that if you sleep with someone without a condom, you’re also sleeping with everyone they’ve slept with and everyone that they’ve slept with, and the list goes on. Lloyds Pharmacy has created a calculator which, based on this theory, can calculate the number of indirect sexual partners you may have. Working on the estimate that the average number of sexual partners a person has is nine, depending on the sex and age of who you slept with, it could result in you having 3,012,759 possible indirect sexual partners. With figures like those, surely a walk-in session should be available to everybody.

Whilst the distribution of free condoms accounts for a lot of prevention of infection, YouGov conducted a study which revealed that 10% of 16 to 24-year-olds had never used a condom, and found that 47% of those who were sexually active did not use protection when sleeping with somebody new.

It goes without saying that the long, painful wait times are by no means a fault of the NHS and all its staff, but rather the funding given to the services. A report from Audit Scotland last year deemed Scotland’s NHS spending “inadequate”, with Nicola Sturgeon being warned the country may face a huge funding crisis. In conjunction with the findings of Health Protection Scotland, which show between 2017 and 2018 STI’s in Scotland saw a 4% rise, it is clear that the lack of funding being given to the services is having a damaging impact.

Luckily, where the government has decided not to fund, the Terrence Higgins Trust picks up their slack. The organisation is the leading sexual health and HIV charity in the UK, and as well as providing services, they campaign on a wide range of issues from insisting PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis; an anti-HIV drug taken daily or around the time of sexual activity) to be made available through routine commissioning all throughout the country, to advocating for every young person in Britain to receive proper relationship and sex education which is LGBTQ+ inclusive. The charity offers a walk-in clinic in Glasgow city centre on Tuesdays from 5pm to 8pm. The service tests for everything Sandyford would; chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and HIV, with the latter only taking 20 minutes to receive the results, and the other three taking five to seven working days.Glasgow faces a demand to provide regular, easy, and quick sexual health testing services in order to combat the current crisis the city is facing. Beyond improving its testing clinics, proper education of what STIs are and the damage they can have is needed to aid prevention. And whilst we wait for the government to give the necessary funding, go and help yourself by going to get checked.