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Clinic general information

This page provides an insight into what to expect if attending a GUM clinic in the UK.

It might be helpful to check out in advance if the clinic will see you without an appointment. Many do but it will mean just queueing. Upon arrival you will be asked to register. You can give as little or as much information as you like without fear that your confidentiality will be breached. This cannot be overemphasised. Special laws exist to protect personal information held on GUM clinic users. If you use false information it is important use the same details at future visits. Each person is given a card with their own clinic number on which should be brought at each visit. It may be possible in some clinics to request you are seen by someone of a particular gender.

A doctor, nurse or health adviser will ask some questions in order to take a ‘sexual history’ to help decide what investigations should be done (if any). For example;

  • What are you worried about?
  • How many people have you had sex with recently?
  • What type of sex was it?
  • Were your partners male or female?
  • Have you had an STD in the past?
  • Are you on any medication?
  • Do you suffer any allergies?

Examination & Tests
These will vary according to a persons sex and stated sexual practice so it is important to answer truthfully any question asked if nothing is to be overlooked. If you are unsure why some information is requested or words are used that you don’t understand then ask for a clearer explanation. Staff should be sensitive to the fact that many people get embarrassed and fearful about being questioned and examined. Don’t be intimidated by anyone or feel you shouldn’t complain if you are unhappy with the service. Most clinics are keen to ensure that they offer something of quality.

Tests may include:

  • Urine test (best not to go to the toilet for 2 hours before tests)
  • Cervical smear
  • Swabs (ie some like tiny cotton buds used) from urethra (entrance of water pipe), vagina, cervix (neck of womb), throat and rectum (back passage). Honestly you’ll not see an umbrella-like instrument anywhere! Something called a speculum is used to hold open the vagina and the doctor or nurse may insert gloved fingers at the same time. Asmall tube called a proctoscope may in some cases be inserted into the rectum.
  • Blood test for syphilis
  • HIV tests are only done with a persons consent and may not be routinely performed.

Sometimes it is possible to tell straight away the presence of some infections by direct observation and use of a microscope. Other things need to be sent off to a laboratory and may take several days for the results to become known. You may be asked to return for further tests at the end of a specified time period before a full diagnosis can be made. For example HIV and syphilis may takeup to 3 months after infection to show up on a blood test. A full explanation should be given of test results and relevant leaflets supplied to back up any advice given.

Treatment given is free and often dispensed straightaway. A full course of antibiotics should be taken even if the symptoms clear up halfway through. Take note that many infections can be present in people without them even realising.

Health Adviser
Most clinics have a health adviser who can spend unhurried amounts of time helping you to better understand what is going on. You may have a lot of personal things you would like to talk through. For example they can help when working out what to do about current or previous partners who may need to be examined or treated. They may ask you for details of partners and whereas this can be really important in helping to control the spread of infections remember that you are under no obligation to give this information. You may however prefer they took on the responsibility to contact partners and you can be assured that this will be undertaken with great tact and discretion without disclosing your identity.

Author - Chris Faldon, Former Senior Health Adviser, Newcastle General Hospital
Last revised 04/09/2003