FAQ: Visiting a GUM clinic

Jamie Hardie, the Senior Sexual Health Adviser at the Greenway centre, Newham General Hospital, answers your most common questions about visiting a GUM clinic.

young people in waiting room

Why, oh why, didn't I use a condom?

Who should go for an STI test?

Anybody who has had unprotected sex and is worried that they might have come into contact with a sexually transmitted infection.

Where should I go to have one?

Ideally to your nearest sexual health or GUM clinic. Your GP may be able to perform some of the tests, but you’ll get more specialist advice and treatment at a GUM clinic. Some family planning clinics or health clinics for young people may offer sexual health services and/or advice, as well.

Will it be confidential?

Special laws exist to protect personal information at a GUM clinic, so all information you provide stays confidential.

Can I give a false name and details?

Yes, it is fine to give a false name; it is helpful if you remember it however for when you need to return! It is always useful if the clinic has a means of contacting you if, for example, they need to let you know about an infection that needs treatment.

Should I book in advance?

Some places are appointment only so it’s best to ring in advance to 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.

Will they ask what I am booking for when I call?

Most clinics will just book you in for an appointment. They may ask you if you have previously attended their service. If you are calling for advice or information they may ask what it is to do with in order to direct you to the appropriate person.

What if I’m under 16?

You can still be seen in complete confidence if you are under the age of 16. If you test positive for an infection, they would keep that information confidential. They will not inform your parents, school or doctor.

What happens when I arrive?

You are normally asked to register when you arrive so that 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 but it is helpful for them to have a means of contacting you in case, for example, they need to let you know about an infection that needs treatment.

What does the clinic look like?

It looks very much like a GP surgery, but the surroundings obviously depend on the clinic you visit – some are more modern than others. In many, you’ll find that the waiting room is divided into sides for males and females.

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. Quite often young people will be seen by a sexual health adviser or nurse before seeing the doctor to discuss your concerns and answer any questions that you may have.

What sorts of questions will they ask me?

  • 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?

It is important to answer truthfully, as the tests you have will be based on your answers. If you are unsure why some of the questions are asked, explain that you want a clearer explanation.

But I’m embarrassed

We recognise that some people do feel embarrassed about sex, and we’re trained to deal with that, but you really don’t need to be. Clinics are very non-judgemental places and all of the staff are used to dealing with every issue and situation that can arise. Some clinics can arrange for you to be seen by someone of a particular gender, which can help to put your mind at rest, but make sure you ask about this when you call.

What do the tests involve?

Where your tests are taken from depends on the sexual history that you will have discussed with the doctor. You may have one or more of the following tests, depending on what infections you are being tested for:

  • Urine 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 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 will probably be referred to a sexual health adviser to discuss this issue further or to answer any questions you may have.

Are they painful?

The swabs/ tests aren’t painful, but they can sometimes be a little uncomfortable. If you are worried about any of the tests, always speak to the doctor or nurse that is doing them beforehand.

How long do I have to wait for the results?

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. You may be asked to return for another appointment in a week or so to discuss your results.

Do I have to pay?

All tests and treatment are free, along with condoms and lubricants.

What happens if the results are positive?

First they would talk to you about the nature of the infection and what sort of treatment it will involve. They would also discuss the importance of contacting partners, which is essential in terms of stopping the spread of infections. You can do this on your own, or we can sometimes do that on your behalf. You may need to see a sexual health adviser again, who will discuss these issues with you and give you further information and advice.

How often should I be tested from now on?

It entirely depends on whether you are in a regular relationship and whether you think you may have been in contact with an STI. The main thing to remember is, if you think you have been 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.

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Updated on 02-Dec-2015