You are never far from sexual health services in the UK. Dedicated clinics are there for phone consultations or visits, online services can post out testing kits for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and your GP is also a source of advice, testing and prescriptions. Needs can vary widely, but most people request access to STI tests such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis, emergency contraception, regular contraception. They may offer hepatitis B vaccination if you are at risk, or emergency HIV treatment, if you think you’ve been exposed. They can also advise on safe sex, high risk behaviour, sexual assault or rape, and anonymous contact tracing for a sexual partner or partners if you have tested positive for an STI.
You can find a local sexual health clinic by typing your postcode into any search engine. You don’t have to be a local resident or provide your NHS number – you can even give a different name and address, although this makes things complicated if you want to follow up your clinic treatment and forget your pseudonym. Similarly, online services are available anywhere in the UK and STI test kits can be posted anywhere in the UK. Your GP surgery usually requires you to be a local resident within a certain boundary to be eligible to register, and to stay on their books.
Emergency contraception needs to be taken as quickly as possible after you’ve had unprotected sex, and certainly within five days. The most effective method is to have a copper coil (IUD or intrauterine device) fitted, which will prevent pregnancy and protect you in future, but this isn’t always urgently available at a sexual health clinic or GP surgery. A tablet known as the morning after pill is the most common method. There are two available, your clinician will decide which is appropriate, depending on your other health conditions and the time since you had unprotected sex. Tablets are available after consultation with a sexual health clinic, contraception clinic, your GP, at the Emergency Department or at a pharmacy. They might speak to you on the phone or see you in person, and give you a paper or electronic prescription.
Sexual health testing and treatment is free for everyone, regardless of your age, sex, identified gender or sexual orientation. Contraception consultation and medication is also free from prescription charges. Emergency contraception is usually free of charge via NHS services. Private sexual health clinics and some pharmacies may charge for the prescription or medication.
If a sexual health clinic has provided remote or in-person services, they will not write to your GP unless you ask them to, and notes will remain confidential and reside in the clinic. You do not even have to give your real name or address. If you visit your GP or Emergency Department, this will be in your health records, electronic files kept by your GP surgery. These notes are confidential and unavailable to others. There is rarely occasion for confidentiality to be broken, and this is only in cases if you are at serious risk of harming yourself or others.