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Dublin STI clinic struggles to cope due to lack of resources

The HSE has said that demand for the clinic’s service is beyond its capacity.

Image: Shutterstock/Pongsak A

THE HSE HAS defended its STI treatment services after it emerged that gay men are being turned away from a Dublin clinic because it doesn’t have the resources to cope with demand.

Fianna Fáil health spokesperson, Stephen Donnelly, said that gay men were being told that they couldn’t be tested at a clinic on Dublin’s Baggot St. 

“I have been contacted by several gay men who were turned away from the Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS), located on Baggot Street, due to a lack of capacity. This is an ongoing issue, and one which the staff in the clinic are doing their level best to manage,” Donnelly said. 

The concerns come following the government’s announcement that a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) HIV prevention programme will be implemented in 2019. In April, HIQA said the introduction of a PrEP programme to reduce HIV rates in Ireland would be cheaper than current care.

According to a HSE spokesperson, the GMHS “is centrally involved in strategies and actions to reduce the incidence of HIV and STIs in the men who have sex with men (MSM) community”. 

The service currently has the capacity to see approximately 1,000 clients per month. 

“Any client who presents at a clinic but cannot be seen is made aware of alternative clinic times and also other services available,” the spokesperson added.

According to the HSE, demand for GMHS is increasing every year. 

“In 2018, approximately 1,030 clients presented to the GMHS each month,” the spokesperson said. 

“This year, the average number of clients presenting each month has risen to 1,138.  All efforts are made by staff to optimise current resources”. 

This year, the GMHS received an additional €421,875 for the continuation of the PrEP monitoring clinic, the asymptomatic STI clinic, a peer outreach programme and a vaccination nursing post, the spokesperson said. 

‘There’s just not enough capacity’

In PrEP treatment, patients pre-emptively take a fixed dose of oral medication. As part of a PrEP programme, service-users are monitored for side effects, tested for HIV and other STIs, and given counselling and advice on safer sex practices.

“No one disputes the power of PrEP but unless there is adequate STI screening services for the LGBT community, PrEP will not be as powerful as it should be,” Fianna Fáil’s Donnelly has said. 

“Put simply demand for the service is outstripping the existing capacity of the clinic. Over the last three years, the number of people presenting to the clinic for STI screening has nearly doubled from less than 6,000 to more than 11,000,” he added. 

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fianna fail 942_90529550 Fianna Fáil's Stephen Donnelly said several men had been turned away from a clinic on Baggot St. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

“This is incredibly positive but what about the people who are being turned away?” he added. 

HIV diagnoses reached a record high in 2018, with 531 cases recorded last year according to the latest HSE figures. 

One 34-year-old man, who did not wish to be named and had been attending GMHS since 2012, told The Irish Times that things had gotten worse in recent years.  

“Twice since January I’ve arrived a bit earlier and was told there was only capacity for 25 or 30 appointments and that it was at the end of it,” he said. “There’s just not enough capacity. The staff are great and they work really hard, but they’re at a point now where I just don’t think they can do anymore.”

In a statement, the Department of Health did not directly address the concerns raised about GMHS. However, it said that the government was working to reduce the number of people who contract HIV.

“We are bringing in a PrEP programme and are increasing testing in the community. We are investing €450,000 to further expand community HIV testing and raise awareness about the benefits of treatment”, a spokesperson for the department said. 

“We will continue to assess resourcing for sexual health services and examine this as part of service planning for 2020,” the spokesperson added. 

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