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HSE to spend up to half a million on STI home-testing pilot project

The HSE currently provides public STI services through clinics around the country.

Image: Shutterstock/Roman Zaiets

THE HSE HAS issued a tender worth up to €505,000 for the roll-out of a pilot project for an online STI testing service. 

In the first five weeks of this year, a total of 1,228 cases of HIV and STIs were reported by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in Ireland. Out of these cases, 61 were HIV diagnoses. 

In 2018, a total of 14,053 STI cases were reported to the HPSC, with the most common being chlamydia, gonorrhoea and genital herpes. 

The HSE currently provides public STI services through clinics around the country. 

However, it said in the tender that there is an “inequity” in access to these services and that “services are struggling to cater for an increasing demand”. 

“Services are currently working at full capacity and the challenges reported include lack of staff resources and clinic time, increasing waiting lists and having to turn people away,” the HSE said. 

In November 2019, a national PrEP HIV prevention programme was rolled out by the HSE. 

The pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment is the most recent development in the field of HIV prevention. It involves HIV-negative people taking an oral dose of the medication to reduce the risk of becoming infected with HIV if sexually exposed to the virus. 

This service “may further increase the demand on public STI services”, according to the HSE. 

The HSE has now tendered for the roll out of a pilot project for an online STI testing service. The maximum budget available for the project is €505,000, inclusive of VAT. 

The aim of the pilot project is to “assess the feasibility, acceptability and impact of an online STI service, integrated into existing public STI clinics in Ireland”. 

Online STI testing will allow asymptomatic individuals to be “tested at a time and place that is convenient to them”. 

“This addresses many of the barriers to STI testing for service users, such as embarrassment, stigma, concerns about privacy, lack of local services,” the HSE said. 

Responding to a query regarding how the tests would be conducted, the HSE said it is proposed that the service users would apply for a test online before conducting the test at home. 

The test would then be posted back to the laboratory in a pre-paid envelope. It is anticipated that service users would receive their results within a few working days. 

“Where a result is positive, the service user will receive a call from one of the medical team and be referred into an STI clinic for treatment,” the HSE said. 

The HSE is proposing that the pilot programme be run from two large public STI clinic sites in Dublin, one large public STI clinic site in Cork and one small satellite STI clinic site in Kerry. 

The HSE’s Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme will establish a steering group to support and oversee the roll-out, progression and completion of the pilot project. 

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