56 Dean Street has been open for just over three years.

Based in the centre of London, this stylish, chic and modern clinic embraces state of the art equipment, and over 60 experienced, and highly professional members of staff, ranging from Doctors and Nurses, to Psychosexual therapists and the invaluable help of volunteers.

Although 56 Dean Street has had various names, and changed location (previously known as The Victoria Clinic) they have remained part of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and rely heavily upon donations and volunteer support, to be able to continue with the hard work and support they provide to their patients.

Shortly before we embarked upon the Double Bank Holiday, I met up with Nurse Specialist Jake Jenkins RN Bsc (Hons) and we discussed everything from what you can expect in your local sexual health clinic, right up to what you can expect from your examination.

As we always stress at TheGayUK, safer sex should always be practiced, and Jake tells us that: “We would always recommend safer sex using condoms. Part of a healthy sex life is getting regular screening, so it would be a good idea to get yourself tested regardless or if you use condoms or not. We can also give you some advice to help make sex safer. If you have been at risk in the last 72 hours then you may need to think about PEPSE (post exposure prophylaxis for HIV following sexual exposure). It’s best to take PEP as soon as you can. You can get it from a sexual health clinic or A+E department.

We believe that in the future, there is likely to be a large clinical trial amongst gay men looking at the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP) i.e. taking medication before sex to prevent HIV transmission for gay men who do participate in high-risk sexual practices.”

Most of our readers know what services are offered from a sexual health clinic, for those that don’t what is available at 56 Dean Street?

• Free HIV testing with immediate results – support either way

• Screening and Vaccinations for Hepatitis B

• Sexual Health Screening (with or without symptoms) by appointment

• Emergency patients seen without an appointment after being assessed by one of our nurses

• Post Exposure Prophylaxis (for people who have been exposed to HIV) within 72hrs.

• Free Condoms and lube

• Health Advisor support

• Contraception

• Support for sexual dysfunction, such as problems with erections, premature ejaculation etc)

• HIV Care (for people living with HIV)

• Specialist clinics (C.O.D.E for men into harder sex, SWISH for people who sell sex, Hepatitis B clinic, Anoscopy, Contact for young people, outreach at G-A-Y and Sweatbox Sauna in addition to our events such as world aids day).

• We work with Antidote to provide drug-counselling support in relation to risky sexual behaviour at CODE clinic.

Perhaps most famous for the 60 minute HIV Test, what else makes 56 Dean Street stand out from the other sexual health clinics?

We put good patient experience as a top priority in the clinic. We know that life is complicated, and it can be difficult to take time out of a busy life to attend the clinic. We do everything we can to keep the waiting times down and make the experience as painless as possible. We are really lucky to have a really nice facility and a kind, friendly, non-judgemental team of experts to look after our patients.

56 Dean Street is renowned for it’s stylish and modern environment, and that it is nowhere near the class of a typical ‘clinic’, what else is done to make sure that patients feel relaxed and at ease?

You can book an appointment online, over the phone, in person or walk-in for certain services. We offer free Wi-Fi in the waiting room and have a friendly team of receptionists to greet you. Starbucks kindly donates coffee, which is available when our volunteers are working to make the visit more comfortable.

Our doctors and nurses are really friendly, but most importantly they are all non judgemental and discrete. Our team are really good at making people who are anxious more relaxed and able to talk openly and honestly about the sex they have. Everyone should enjoy a happy, healthy sex life. We will work with you to improve it.

As mentioned, some of our reader’s aren’t familiar with sexual health clinics, for those that have never received a check up, how important is it that they do so?

It’s really important to get checked regularly. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are quite common and can be easily picked up. People often do not get any symptoms with some STIs.

Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea can be easily treated. The number of cases of syphilis is on the rise and this can also be easily treated, but can be a problem if it’s left untreated.

HIV is a manageable chronic condition, knowing your status can save your life. Accessing care is important to ensure your health is monitored and improved. Having more time to get used to living with HIV before starting treatment is easier than if you get diagnosed, and need to start treatment more urgently.

We recommend that all gay men should also get vaccinated against Hepatitis B, as this virus is 100 times more infectious (easier to get) than HIV and Hep B is more prevalent amongst men who have sex with men.

If you have been at risk for Hepatitis C we can test you for this and also advise on ways to reduce your risk.

What about those that are members of the LGBT Community?

For men who have sex with men, Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea are quite common. Syphilis and HIV is on the increase. In London 1 in 7 gay men have HIV and one third of them don’t know they have it. Becoming aware of HIV and sexually transmitted infections is good to ensure you enjoy a happy, healthy sex life. It’s also good to get vaccinated against Hep B.

We have recently opened a new walk in sexual health and well-being service for all trans people, partners and friends that runs every Wednesday from 5.30-7pm called CliniQ. The service also offers Liver function testing, drug and Alcohol support and advice and advocacy services.
How regularly should our readers be going for check ups?

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It depends on risk. As a guide the government recommend HIV testing for gay men once a year. If you have lots of partners you may want to do this every six months. It’s important to screen for the other infections, as they are more common. So between 6-12 months is good depending on risk. It’s important that people do not become too worried about infections and test too frequently. You should enjoy a safe, healthy sex life and be tested to look after your body.
What can be expected from a sexual health check up?

You will be asked some questions about your sex life. You will then be offered tests based on the answers you give. You can pick and choose the tests you want based on these recommendations.

If you are a gay man and you have no symptoms it’s usually a finger prick test, a blood test, a urine sample and swabs from your throat and bottom (you can do the swab from your bum yourself).

If you are a heterosexual man with no symptoms it’s usually a urine test and blood tests. For heterosexual Women it’s a self-taken swab from your vagina and some blood tests.

If you have symptoms we will need to do some more tests, for a man this usually would mean having a small swab taken from the eye of the penis, for a woman it would be some swabs taken and a speculum examination.

As we are constantly reminded by the press and news coverage, our lifestyles are a lot more ‘fun fuelled’ now, with the rise of binge drinking and party going – would you say that this figure has altered the rise in the number of people coming for check ups – due to unprotected sex, or alcohol related ‘experiences’?

Yes, we do see lots of people who have been in situations they would normally avoid due to alcohol or drugs. Our team are non-judgemental and understand this can happen and will be supportive and helpful.

If for example, you got drunk and had sex without a condom and you think you may need PEPSE, we would like to see you as soon as we can.

We also run CODE clinic, which is for men into harder sex and drugs or alcohol. We work with Antidote to help people who want help with drugs and who take risks when high or drunk.
Leading on from that point, are men more open to asking for advice, and coming in for testing?

We do think that gay men are more exposed to health promotion messages about sexual health and we believe that gay men are good at coming forward for testing.

However, we know that 1 in 4 gay men in the UK have never tested for HIV and despite the advice to HIV test every 12 months, less than 1 in 3 gay men have done so. This is something we’d really like to tackle. The community campaign is one of the ways we are trying to do this. Check out the Facebook page http://facebook.com/TheCommunityCampaign (Currently, we are asking for visitors to the page to submit art and videos to be entered into a competition, the winner will be used as our next big campaign)
Is the contraction of the HIV virus on the rise?

Yes, each year the numbers of people getting HIV is increasing. The good news is that more people are accessing testing, but still not enough to help reduce the spread.

It seems there is a lot more information readily available now, do you think the public perception of the infection has changed since the early 80s?

Yes, we are 31 years on and so much has changed. Being diagnosed with HIV is no longer a death sentence. The treatment is good and continues to improve. The fear and stigma hasn’t changed much but the quality of life is always improving. HIV is a manageable condition and this means we are no longer losing so many of our dear friends.

A recent NAT report showed that 1-in-5 people they interviewed did not know that HIV was transmitted through sex (compared to 5% who did not know that HIV was transmitted through sex 30 years ago).

The problem is that although things are really moving forward this can make people complacent. It’s important to remember that although things are improving, life can be more complicated if you are living with HIV and people report experiencing stigma, rejection, isolation and sometimes issues at work and when travelling.

Stigma is definitely a big issue for people living with HIV. As hard as we campaign, as much as we educate, changing attitudes of society takes a long time. But significant progress has been made, in changing views and we must continue to push for this.

AT 56DS part of our strategy is to make testing more normal, easy and convenient to help people come forward. Knowing your status can save your life!
What are the current statistics for HIV cases both diagnosed and undiagnosed in gay men?

2880 Gay men tested HIV positive in the UK in 2010, the equal highest since records began. Around a quarter of people with HIV in the UK are undiagnosed. Over half of people in the UK are diagnosed late (after the time they should have already started treatment). Statistics show that a 20 year old who is diagnosed very late with HIV is thought to have a life expectancy at least 10 years shorter than someone who starts treatment at the recommended time.
56 Dean Street diagnoses more HIV than any other clinic in the UK, why do you think this is?

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We want to make HIV testing easier, friendly, fast and convenient. People’s HIV status can change so we look to build a relationship with patients which makes them feel comfortable to come back and retest regularly (at least once a year ideally). We know that early diagnosis of HIV makes a big difference, so don’t be frightened. We will give support to either help reduce risks and stay negative, or look after you and work with you to ensure you have good health if you do have HIV.
56 Dean Street offers numerous other services, to help with raising the awareness of HIV and trying to reduce the spread of infection – what can you tell me about the work that is being done to change these statistics?

We are marching at London pride to promote the ease of HIV testing, we also have regular events using our health bus to help increase testing, and we did this at pride last year and outside G-A-Y bar.

We are currently setting up a new service for gay women.
Our work with G-A-Y and 90ten to set the world record for most HIV tests in 8 hours recently won the ‘healthcare communication campaign’ award from the British Medical Journal.

We are also running several other media campaigns. The Community Campaignhttp://facebook.com/TheCommunityCampaign is a competition for people to create the next generation HIV awareness campaign. We are looking for short videos, posters and art that will get the message across. Should it be bold and daring, or soft and subtle? We have teamed up with Stephen Fry to help promote the campaign. Visit the page to find out more!

What would you suggest to someone that is worried they have been with someone, that may have had an infection?

Come in get tested and get treated as soon as you can. We have emergency appointments available and will try and fit you in as soon as we can. Please note these appointments are limited. Remember if you have been exposed to an STI, it may not show up on tests if you come too early. 4 weeks after possible exposure is an optimal time to test for most things. If you have definitely been exposed to an STI, we would normally treat you if you know what infection you have been exposed to
Can we ever be 100% Safe?

It’s tricky! The reality is that no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves we can never be 100% safe. The best thing to do to look after your health is to use condoms and get yourself checked regularly.

So, after the ‘test’, what happens next – how long do we have to wait for results?

HIV tests that we use give results in about 2 minutes. For everything else it can take up to 10 days. If you do have an infection we are usually in touch a lot sooner.

In this day and age, people are always on the move – what methods of delivering results does 56 Dean Street employ?

Text Message Delivery, is the most ‘popular’ method of giving a patient their results, alternatively you can contact our results line, or come in to the clinic in person, and receive your results face to face (appointment is necessary).
What happens if an infection is detected, is the patient called back in?

Yes, if the patient has agreed to be contacted by text we would send you a text advising you to contact us at your convenience, and then we’d make an appointment for treatment and a short chat with one of our health advisors.
What about if it’s more serious than a case of antibiotics?

If your HIV test is positive we will give you loads of support on the day. We will take some additional blood tests, and talk you through what happens next. We provide HIV Care in the clinic, so if you want to keep coming to 56DS you can. We are part of the largest HIV service in Europe and our friendly, expert HIV Care team will help you to maintain your health and support you in coming to terms with your diagnosis.

About the author: Nathan Mackley
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