This issue, we focus our spotlight on SH:24, an online sexual health and reproductive health service in partnership with the NHS. The service was developed in the London boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark and provides free STI test kits, information and advice. SH:24 are now providing services across the country in collaboration with the NHS.
We spoke to Dr. Gillian Holdsworth, Managing Director of SH:24 about the background of the service, its aims, and what the future holds. Dr Holdsworth is a medically qualified public health consultant who works in population health.
How did SH:24 come about?
Dr Holdsworth previously worked in women and children’s services, focusing on teen pregnancy – at the time Lambeth and Southwark saw some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country. Sexual health was also an issue in the area, and it was suggested that the situation could be improved by moving the services online. Many of the issues with the system as it stood stemmed from the incapacity of services in the area to cope with demand.
Dr Holdsworth and her team heard anecdotal evidence of long queues outside clinics at all times of the day, stories of people having to take entire days off work to get seen at a clinic and women being unable to get appointments to be prescribed contraceptive pills. She turned to Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity with the idea of moving sexual health and reproductive services online and secured approval and funding from its innovation fund. In March 2015, the service was launched.
What are the aims of the organisation?
SH:24 aims to improve access to a comprehensive range of sexual health and reproductive services and information. The organisation also aims to build relationships with its clients, so that people can manage their own health in an informed, safe way. SH:24 works with clinics as partners, so that people who need to be seen get fast-tracked and have a quicker journey through the system.
SH:24 is a Community Interest Company (CIC) regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and NHS Digital (formally HSCIC). “We’re operating within a complex regulatory framework,” Dr Holdsworth explains. “We’ve needed advice on safeguarding, our policy around online prescribing and our approach to that. We’ve had a very good experience with Hempsons.”
The SH:24 model has already been highly influential on other projects developing similar services. What advice does Holdsworth have for those looking to innovate within the healthcare environment?
It’s safe to say that SH:24 is being successful in meeting its original aims. Not only are other areas taking inspiration from their model, but the project has been awarded multiple times, receiving the BMJ awards’ Innovation Team of the Year and the DL100 Digital Leaders Cross-Sector Collaboration of the Year. The project continues to make strides, earlier this year introducing an online contraception service.