Removing distance as a barrier for sexual health screening
A network of bulk-billed GP sexual health clinics is reducing the tyranny of distance and improving access to screening for people in the outer areas of Melbourne.
The new model, known as the Victorian Sexual Health Network (VSHN) is being run by Alfred Health’s Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC), and is already operating at three GP clinics in Hillside (Kings Park Medical Centre), Clayton (Mediclinic Clayton) and Tarneit (Tarneit Family Medical and Dental Practice).
The partnership involved the MSHC tailoring a support and education package to the staff at the practices.
MSHC medical services manager Professor Marcus Chen said the network addressed a real need for additional sexual health services across Victoria.
“Previously if patients tested positive for an STI they’d have to come to the MSHC based in Carlton, which can prove difficult for many people and was a major barrier for screening numbers,” Professor Chen said
“We’re trying to equip these clinics to provide broad sexual health care, but a key driver is the increase in syphilis because it causes some of the most serious complications and the most alarming, such as congenital syphilis which has led to infant deaths in Victoria.
“There needs to be more STI testing but often people are reluctant to have an STI test, so we’ve trained GP services to increase access to sexual health services and expertise across Victoria.”
Mediclinic Clayton practice manager Maria Rodriguez said the service had already significantly improved access for patients.
“There’s a number of barriers, whether they be financial, distance, concerns around privacy, that this model breaks down and in just a few short months it’s completely exceeded our expectations.
“We were hoping for about 30 patients when we began trialling it and we’re already at about 70, so it’s been a resounding success.”
Despite Victorians being forced to isolate for large parts of the year, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) haven’t fallen away.
“Casual sex may have fallen during the COVID lockdown, but there’s still been too many syphilis infections, 500 gonorrhoea cases treated at our clinic in one quarter and new HIV diagnoses” he said.
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