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Feel the difference fund paves new ways of working in sexual health

The restrictions introduced to keep everyone safe since March 2020 have impacted everyone. But finding ways to continue to allow access to health and social care – as well as regular medication – has meant transforming services quickly and thinking up new and creative ways to solve problems – and the Feel the Difference Fund has proved its worth, allowing teams to try new and unproven ways of working which could have benefit for the future.

People living with HIV and people on combined hormonal contraceptives (CHC) take medication which means their blood pressure, weight, height must all be kept under regular review to help keep them safe and set dosing.

But, with face-to-face appointments limited to essential trips only, many patients were finding it difficult to attend their routine check-ups or to provide a reading from home or from another recent visit to health and care services.

Without vital information, doctors were faced with changing medication for contraceptive patients who – without body measurement readings – couldn’t be safely prescribed their preferred medication.

At a time when demand for services was high, this unnecessary work led to dissatisfied patients and stretched services.

To help solve the problem and improve the experience for patients, the clinicians at our Cheshire West and Chester Integrated Sexual Health Service were given a Feel the Difference Grant to pilot a new way of obtaining the readings.

The grant funded the installation of a self-service weight and height kiosk, allowing patients to independently and easily obtain verified and accurate readings which could be used by doctors for prescribing, all while following social distancing, infection control and safety measures in place during the pandemic.

The machine was installed in November 2020 and is overseen by service colleagues. The machine is calibrated to provide accurate readings, and clear infection prevention and control measures were put in place to minimise the risk of any transmission of the virus.

As part of the pilot, the service regularly reviewed the performance of the machine, including asking patients for their feedback on their experience. The team also kept collecting data on whether the use of a similar machine might form part of the future service model for sexual health services after the pandemic was over.

Just fewer than 50 people gave feedback on their use of the machine, showing it was easy to use and saying that in almost half of cases (49%) it reduced the time they spent at the service.

While HIV patients appreciated the extra measures to ensure their medication was safely prescribed, almost three quarters (65%) of contraceptive patients said that using the machine had been the single thing that allowed them to be prescribed their preferred medication.

Other patients, though, said they preferred the privacy and the ‘human’ element of the normal service where a clinician would take the measurements.

The pilot was heralded a success, allowing patients to continue accessing services – and medication – safely during the pandemic, and will be kept in place in the Chester service but didn’t find any efficiencies which mean it should be rolled out in a post-pandemic future.

The Feel the Difference Fund is all about trying out new ways of working and ideas with the potential to make a difference, empowering Virgin Care service teams to run pilots like this one.

Virgin Care continues to review and develop its sexual health model, based on the Sexual Health Hub which is already in place in Manchester, Teesside and Chester, to provide efficient and high performing services for local authorities across the country.

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