Damaging cuts to public health budgets across England are forcing sexual health services to encourage people to order STI testing kits online and test in their own homes.
With no personal experience of testing in the home I thought I’d check out a kit, ordering one online last week. I’m usually screened for STIs when I have my routine HIV appointments. My next check-up isn’t for a few weeks and I came out of a relationship at the start of December, so what better time to test one out!
All the tests are home sampling, I’ve carried out the tests at home but sent them off to a lab to be processed. I wasn’t made aware of the results immediately. It’s also important to note I’m not presenting any symptoms, this is purely about looking after my sexual health. If you think you have an STI go to the clinic.
Ordering the test
This was the simplest part of the process, it took a couple of minutes to enter the information needed to order the test, I did this last Wednesday evening and the kit arrived in the Friday morning post.
There were just a couple of forms to complete to ensure the samples were matched to my contact information and these were simple to complete. I do have a couple of criticisms regarding the absence of useful information and the demographic questions on the form itself.
There was no indication as to how quickly I should try and get the samples posted to the lab. I ended up waiting until first thing Monday morning to complete all the tests to ensure I could get them in the post that day. I was worried if they were posted Friday the lab might not receive them until this week and I wasn’t sure if this would cause any issues.
There was no means to let the lab know I’m living with HIV. I had to write my name and date of birth on a post-it with this information and stick it in the envelope. Hopefully they will see this and won’t run a test that’s needless. Seeing as many people living with HIV are disproportionally affected by STIs this seemed like a strange oversight.
My final gripe relates to the inclusivity of the service. The options to define your sexuality were limited (I was not able to define myself as queer) and gender was restricted to ‘male’ and ‘female’. There is a risk some trans and non-binary people will avoid testing in this way unless the forms are changed to reflect all gender identities.
Throat and rectal swab
My biggest fear in the sexual health clinic isn’t the needle when having my bloods taken, or getting on the scales to find out how much weight I have put on in six months, it’s the dreaded throat swab. Nothing changed when swiping myself, standing in front of my mirror I still coughed violently and spluttered.
Completing the rectal swab was actually easier than in clinic, because I could lay down, look in the mirror again and actually check I was doing it properly rather than guessing how far up my ass I’d shoved the thing…
A clumsy task for someone with dyspraxia but I imagine it is much easier for someone with a penis to wiz into a pot than someone without one so I’ll move on.
This was the most traumatic part of the whole experience.
From memory I’ve never had to cut or slice myself open before (in reality you are creating the tiniest of holes in your finger). It took two attempts to use the lancet, the first time I screamed just placing it on the end of my finger, a bit like when you dip your little toe into the water stream of a freezing cold shower.
I think the skin was broken before I even heard the ‘click’. I’ve heard people say that with the spot tests it can be hard to get enough blood out. I had the opposite issue, my finger wouldn’t stop bleeding. I tried using both plasters that came with the kit but they got too wet from my blood to stick to my finger. Luckily I was sat near my first aid kit and found one to wrap around which has held firm all day. It is still a little sore now and looks bruised, guessing this is normal.
As mentioned above there was no way to let the lab know the HIV test wasn’t necessary. I just wanted to get checked for hep c and syphilis.
I am writing this evaluation based on the fact I don’t yet know the results of any of the tests. Although as I am already living with HIV I don’t think a positive result for any STI would cause me worry.
I would use the kit again if I wanted to test in-between my HIV appointments, which would be dependent on my future relationship status, if I was seeing someone I would be happy waiting every six months and attending the clinic.
The administrative criticisms aside the whole process has been a simple and easy.
Take Action and save our sexual health services
The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) have launched this petition which is endorsed by several leading organisations working in sexual health and HIV.
Do you have concerns about your local clinic?
Terrence Higgins Trust and NAT (National AIDS Trust) are looking for people to share their experiences of accessing sexual health clinics in this short survey.
As with all my blog content, the views in this post are my own.