What is a GUM clinic? Everything you need to know

Do you have questions about sexual health that you’re too scared to ask? Jamie Hardie, the Senior Sexual Health Adviser at the Greenway centre, Newham General Hospital, explains what a GUM clinic is and answers your most common questions about visiting a GUM clinic.

A young woman is on her phone. She is looking up GUM clinics.

What is a GUM clinic?

‘What is a GUM clinic?’ is probably the most asked question there is when it comes to this topic. Luckily, it’s also the easiest to answer.

A GUM clinic, meaning a free and confidential health clinic, is specifically designed for all matters relating to genital health. This includes contraception, STI testing & treatment, abortion advice and more.

What does GUM clinic stand for?

GUM clinic stands for genitourinary medicine clinic. A bit of a mouthful, we know – that’s why it’s usually shortened. So next time your friends ask you what does a GUM clinic stands for you’ll have the answer locked and loaded. 

And, just a fun tidbit, they’re also referred to as sexual health clinics. See previous question for the reason why.

Who should go for an STI test?

GUM clinics are your resident STI clinics. Anybody who has had unprotected sex and is worried that they might have come into contact with a sexually transmitted infection should definitely visit a GUM clinic to get tested.

Where should I go to have an STI test?

Ideally to your nearest sexual health or GUM clinic. Your GP may be able to perform some of the tests. But you’ll end up getting more specialist advice and treatments for STIs at a GUM clinic. Some family planning clinics or health clinics for young people may offer sexual health services and/or advice, as well. In case you’re not sure where to go, the NHS has a tool to find your nearest sexual health clinic here.

Is visiting a sexual health clinic confidential?

Special laws exist to protect personal information at a GUM clinic. This means that all information you provide stays confidential.

Can I visit a GUM clinic anonymously?

Technically speaking, yes, you could anonymously visit a GUM clinic meaning you could give a false name. Just make sure you remember it in case you ever need to return. And you should always give REAL contact details. That way the clinic can let you know about an infection that needs treatment or anything of that nature.

Should I book a visit to a GUM clinic in advance?

Some places are appointment only. Honestly, it’s best to ring in advance and find out. Many GUM clinics will offer a walk-in service or a triage service (sorting emergencies according to priority) if you have an urgent problem. But be prepared to get in a queue. At least you’ll be well prepared for that part.

Will a GUM clinic ask what I am booking for when I call?

Most clinics will just book you in for an appointment. They might ask you if you’ve previously attended their service. If you’re calling for advice or information they may have to ask what you’re dealing with in order to direct you to the appropriate person. But we promise, there’s nothing that they haven’t heard before.

Can I visit a GUM clinic if I’m under 16? Will my parents find out?

You can still be seen in complete confidence if you’re under the age of 16. Even if you test positive for an infection, they’d be required to keep that information confidential. This means that they won’t inform your parents, school or doctor.

What happens when I arrive at a GUM clinic?

You’re normally asked to register as soon as you arrive. That way they can make a set of notes for you with a confidential number. Again, you can provide as little or as much information as you like. Just remember that it’s helpful for them to have a means of contacting you.

What does a GUM clinic look like?

It looks a lot like a GP surgery. Of course, the surroundings depend on the clinic you visit . So some are more modern than others. In many, you’ll find that the waiting room is split by gender.

Do I have to state which STI I want to be tested for?

The doctor, nurse or sexual health advisor will ask some questions to build up a picture of your sexual history and help decide what tests need to be done. A majority of the time you’ll be seen by a sexual health adviser or nurse before seeing the doctor. They’ll be able to discuss your concerns and answer any questions that you may have.

What sorts of questions does a GUM clinic ask?

Some of the standard questions asked include: 

  • What are you concerned about?
  • How many people have you had sex with recently and were they male or female (or both)?
  • What type of sex was it (e.g. anal/oral etc)?
  • Have you ever had an STI before?
  • Are you on any medication?

For all of these, it’s important to answer truthfully since the tests you have will be based on your answers. If you’re unsure why some of the questions are asked, don’t be afraid to ask for a clearer explanation. 

If you’re embarrassed to visit a GUM clinic

We recognise that some people feel embarrassed about sex. Luckily, GUM clinics are trained to deal with that. They’re very non-judgemental places. Plus, all of the staff are used to dealing with every issue and situation under the sun. Some clinics can even arrange for you to be seen by someone of a particular gender, which might help to put your mind at rest.

What do STI tests involve?

Where your tests are taken from depends on what you’ve told the doctor. You may have one or more of the following tests, depending on what infections you’re being tested for:

  • Urine sample test (try not to go to the toilet for two hours before the test);
  • Samples for various infections from the urethra, vagina, cervix (neck of the womb), throat or rectum. These are sometimes called swabs.
  • The doctor may use something called a speculum to examine female patients.
  • Blood sample tests (for syphilis);
  • HIV testing is routinely offered in most GUM clinics. You may want to have one depending on your concerns and sexual history. You’ll probably be referred to a sexual health adviser to discuss this issue further or to answer any questions you may have beforehand.

Are STI tests painful?

The swabs/ tests aren’t painful. At the most, they’ll just be a little uncomfortable. If you’re worried about any of the tests, always speak to the doctor or nurse that is doing them. They can help reassure you.

How long do I have to wait for the results of an STI test?

Some results can be given immediately if the presence of an infection shows up by direct observation. However, most will have to be sent to a laboratory. Don’t be too surprised if you’re asked to return for another appointment in a week or so to discuss your results.

Do I have to pay for an STI test?

All tests and treatment are free. And they also offer free condoms and lubricants.

What happens if my STI test results are positive?

First, they’d talk to you about the infection and what sort of treatment it’ll involve. They’ll also discuss the importance of contacting partners. This part is essential for stopping the spread of infections. You can do this on your own, or they can sometimes do that on your behalf. You may also need to see a sexual health adviser again. They’ll discuss these issues with you, if you want, and give you further information and advice.

How often should I be tested for STIs from now on?

It totally depends on what type of relationship you’re in and whether you think you may have been in contact with an STI. The main thing to remember is, if you think you’re at risk, always have a check-up.

Please note that this is a guide only – if you have any further concerns, consult your nearest GUM clinic or GP immediately.

And if you have questions about STIs or sexual health, check out The Mix’s safe sex resources here. You can also get support on a wide range of issues on our website.

 

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Tags:

FAQ| STIs

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 21-Jun-2022