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How important is confidentiality in sexual health clinics? A survey of patients across 51 clinics in England
  1. Helen Parker1,
  2. Jonathan DC Ross2,
  3. John A White3,
  4. Janet D Wilson1,
  5. on behalf of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV
  1. 1Department of Genitourinary Medicine, Centre for Sexual Health, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, UK
  2. 2Whittall Street Clinic, Birmingham University Hospital Foundation Trust, Birmingham, UK
  3. 3Genitourinary Medicine, Lloyd Clinic, Guy's and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Janet Wilson, Centre for Sexual Health, Leeds General Infirmary, Leeds LS1 3EX, UK; janet_d.wilson{at}leedsth.nhs.uk

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Introduction

Confidentiality has been the bedrock of sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinics in the UK since the Venereal Diseases Act 1917,1 which has been updated with each reorganisation of the NHS within England.2 Anyone attending a STI clinic is ensured confidentiality and anonymity beyond that routinely provided within the NHS by having separate registration systems, and separate case notes or electronic patient records, from other health service records. Investigations are ordered using a clinic number, not the person's name, and there is no routine communication with general practitioners (GP). Patients are also under no obligation to provide their real name.

This additional confidentiality is very important to some. Of school attendees aged 13–14 years, 56.3% rated confidentiality the most important feature of a sexual health service, and 46.1% would not want their GP to be aware of their attendance.3 59% of STI clinic attendees preferred to be seen in a specialist clinic rather than by their GP.4

The STD directions2 on confidentiality will cease to have legal effect when the Health and Social Care Act 2012 is fully implemented. This prompted a review of the legislation on STIs during late 2012, which suggested that additional confidentiality is unnecessary and that STI services should be regulated by the NHS Code of Practice on Confidentiality 20035 and NHS Information Governance principles6 as in other NHS services. The British Association for Sexual Health & HIV (BASHH) believed that the additional confidentiality and anonymity offered by STI clinics is such an established part of STI care that the views of service users needed to be sought and taken into account during any planned changes.

BASHH, therefore, performed a rapid national survey of views of STI clinic attendees about the proposed changes to the law.

Methods

BASHH produced an information sheet …

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