Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Sexual health services that young people can use

Here, people talk about:

•    who offers sexual health services and advice?
•    getting contraception from a clinic
•    what happens at a sexual health clinic?
•    confidentiality


Who offers sexual health services and advice?

Sexual health services are free and available to everyone regardless of age, sexuality, ethnic origin, gender or disability. Sexual health services and advice are available from:

•    GPs
•    pharmacies
•    contraception clinics (family planning clinics)
•    sexual health clinics
•    STI (sexually transmitted infections) testing clinics
•    genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
•    young people’s services (e.g. charities that work with young people)

Not all clinics offer the full range of sexual health services so it’s always best to check what they do beforehand. Aphra felt that sexual and mental health were the most important health issues for young people. Living in a village, most young people she knew locally went to the GP about sexual health because the nearest clinic was two bus rides away:
Getting contraception from a clinic

Some people we talked to went to a clinic to get contraception or contraceptive advice. Hannah and Sarah recalled feeling nervous or awkward the first time they went to see the GP about contraception, though it was fine and they said looking back they needn’t have worried. With hindsight, Hannah said she’d have preferred going to a family planning clinic at that age because they had sessions specifically for people under 21.
Later, Hannah went to her GP surgery and spoke to a nurse about contraceptive implants. She felt frustrated afterwards, though, and looked online for more information. A few days later, she went to a sexual health clinic.
What happens at a sexual health clinic?

Anyone can make an appointment to go to a sexual health clinic (sometimes called a GUM clinic – genitourinary medicine clinic). Sometimes there’s a drop-in clinic, which means people can just turn up without making an appointment. People visiting a sexual health service for the first time are usually asked to fill in a form with their name and contact details. They don’t have to give their real name or tell staff who their GP is if they don’t want to. People can visit any sexual health clinic – it doesn’t have to be one in their local area. Brook, a popular sexual health service for young people, can only be used by under 25s. Appointments aren’t usually necessary as they work on a ‘drop in’ basis.

As part of the consultation (appointment), a person may be asked some personal questions, such as their medical and sexual history, what methods of contraception they use, and other questions about their sex life and sexual partners. Questions include:

•    when they last had sex
•    whether they had unprotected sex
•    whether they have any symptoms
•    whether they think they might have an infection
•    how many sexual partners they’ve had
•    whether they have sex with men or women or both
If someone needs to be tested for STIs (such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea), they may need to give a blood or urine sample or have a swab taken. Getting tested and treated for STIs is straightforward and confidential. Most infections can be treated with antibiotics. Anyone can ask to see a male or female doctor or nurse but they might have to wait longer than usual for one to become available.
With some tests, the results – and treatment if it’s needed – are available on the same day. For others, there might be a wait.

Confidentiality

When it comes to sexual health services, young people have the same rights whether they’re under or over 16, regardless of their sexuality, ethnic origin, gender, or disability. All information about a person’s visit is treated confidentially. This means that their personal details and any information about the tests or treatments they’ve had won’t be shared with anyone outside the sexual health service without their permission. Appointments with the GP are confidential regardless of a person’s age. Doctors and nurses have very strict rules on confidentiality so that everything a patient tells them, their personal details and medical records are kept completely private. However, a GP might encourage a patient to tell others (like a parent) about the problem, or they can speak to them on the patient’s behalf if they’d prefer. This is because sometimes it’s important for those looking after a person to know what’s going on as they might be able to help or support them. The doctor might encourage a young person to tell their parent or guardian, but should respect a patient’s wishes if they don’t want to. If a patient is under 16 and doesn’t want to involve their parents, the doctor can treat them without telling their parents as long as the young person fully understands the choices they’re making. In exceptional cases, though, like when a health professional thinks a young person might be in serious danger, they may need to pass information to police or social services. Even then they must talk to the person first before they tell anyone else, unless that would put someone at risk of harm.
More young people talk about their experiences of sexual health here.
 

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