STI screening services have resumed in University College Dublin’s (UCD) STI Clinics following their closure due to Covid-19. This follows the announcement of a “Play it Safe” sexual health campaign launched by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Irish Pharmacy Union to encourage young people’s safety when it comes to sexual activity and the fight against coronavirus.
According to the Director of UCD Student Health Service, Dr. Sandra Tighe the “STI Screening is now up and running”. The new screening processes will now involve a phone consult with a nurse followed by an in-clinic visit for swabs or blood tests in order to reduce contact time and risk to students and staff.
Leaflets containing information about how to reduce risk of coronavirus transmission if sexually active, when to consider avoiding sex, suggestions of alternatives such as phone or internet sex, will be dispersed to pharmacies across the country by the HSE, as part of the information campaign.
During the university’s closure, the Student Health Service provided an STI service for students but did not provide screening. At present, the service is “quite busy” Dr. Tighe has told The College Tribune, so students may have to wait for a screening appointment. She said: “[W]e prioritise students who are ill or have urgent problems over screens so there may be a wait in some cases. We treat anyone who has symptoms as urgent and they go through the GP”.
Earlier this week, Professor John Gilmore from UCD’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems spoke on ‘Newstalk FM’ about how issues surrounding sex during the coronavirus and the pandemic should have been discussed much earlier. Speaking to The College Tribune, Professor Gilmore said he “absolutely” thinks sexual services should be running and that there are a number of “options and opportunities” for them to engage in practice.
Professor Gilmore has highlighted the options of virtual consultations, at home-testing as well as in-clinic testing in the wake of Covid-19. However, he also noted that sexual health services aren’t just about testing – “They’re also about the support, advice and counselling provided in those consultations. It’s also about contraception and emergency contraception provision”.
He added: “I suppose what a lot of us in the sector are calling for is to go back to full capacity but also to think about the need to further develop the infrastructure around sexual health in Ireland”.
When asked about how UCD might operate its sexual health services, Professor Gilmore flagged the lack of many students on campus come September as a challenge. Some students may not be used to accessing these services at home if they’re used to being in Dublin. He said: “Many students operate a double life – they have their college life and they know how to access what they need when they’re in college in Dublin but then when they’re at home they may not necessarily be tied into the same services so it’s important that they’re able to go and get that information.”
His advice to students is to look at the guidance, which is mainly linked to physical distancing, but also that it was “really important” that “if people are having sex, that they’re getting tested regularly”.
Difficulty in maintaining social distancing during sex means there is always a risk in spreading coronavirus and the recommendation is to have sex only with partners living in the same household, according to SexualWellbeing.ie. There is a wealth of resources online for students wishing to seek guidance about the best practices for safe sex during COVID-19.
HIV Ireland and SpunOut keep an updated list of sexual health clinics that are closed and those operating at restricted capacity. For more information on UCD’s STI Clinics can be found here.
Sadhbh O’Muirí – Reporter