Unlike other physical health issues, there often tends to be a stigma surrounding the disclosure of sexual health concerns.

This may stem from religious beliefs, societal views or the generalisation that sexually transmitted diseases and infections are a consequence of sexual promiscuity. This stigma may equate a fear of judgement that could result in people suffering in silence and overlooking the importance of sexual health check-ups, which can have a detrimental effect on their own personal wellbeing and their partner’s.

In a bid to break down the stigma and encourage people to seek advice on their sexual health concerns, The Impartial Reporter spoke to Dr. Rachael Wright, a GP at Maple Group Practice in Lisnaskea.

Responding to the question ‘as a GP in a rural area, do you find that patients are reluctant to open up to you about concerns regarding their sexual health due to the fear of judgement’, Dr. Wright said: “It depends on the person, often they might come to see you about something else first and then you’re aware that there might be something else, then they’ll come back and see you again maybe.”

She added: “As a GP you get to know people, although I suppose it’s a double edged sword, in some ways people might prefer the complete anonymity of a stranger and sometimes they will see a locum GP, someone they have never talked to before because they can choose that and other times they have that relationship and maybe you’ve helped them with something else and they feel comfortable.”

Commenting that she believes that there could be people in Fermanagh who are suffering in silence because of the stigma often associated with sexual health, Dr. Wright added: “I see the ones who do come and I suppose you don’t see the ones who don’t come and the reasons for why they don’t come.

“I think that there is a raised profile of it with all the bits that have been reported on in your newspaper, that people are coming forward and talking about different things more and relationships. I suppose it’s just keeping saying to people, ‘yes come, we’re here to listen’.”

When asked what advice she gives to a patient who is concerned that they may have a sexually transmitted infection or disease, Dr. Wright said: “I suppose it’s exploring why they are concerned and what disease they are worried about and then we can do pretty much all of the screening.

“We don’t have onsite lab facilities which they would have in a sexual health clinic but you can send the swabs. We usually encourage people maybe if it’s a Friday afternoon to come back as the swabs may be less reliable if they are left to a Monday but other than that we can test there and then.”

Talking about the importance of sexual health check ups, Dr. Wright shared: “A lot of sexually transmitted diseases don’t have symptoms, especially in men, so they don’t know they have it. Things like chlamydia often don’t have any symptoms in men and are easily treated and so it is important.”

“We usually recommend whenever you change a partner, maybe coming in and having a sexual health screening and it also is the opportunity to talk about contraception, and perhaps coercive relationships and less healthy relationships so that can all be brought into it,” she added.

“There’s the bits around Gillick competency, yes if somebody is under 16 and having sex, we have certain regulations about that. But 16 to 18 year olds, we are happy to see them without their parents,” Dr. Wright told this newspaper.

Aside from visiting a GP, there are also specialised clinics that deal specifically with sexual health concerns and provide screenings. Highlighting the resources that are available to Fermanagh residents, a spokeswoman for the Western Health and Social Care Trust stated: “Sexual and reproductive healthcare clinics are available in the South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen every Wednesday morning and afternoon. There is also a drop in clinic in South West College, Enniskillen on a Tuesday from 12.30pm to 3.30pm for anyone aged under 25 years.”

“These clinics offer a wide range of contraception and provide chlamydia and Gonorrhoea screening for asymptomatic people. We also inform people with no symptoms about a free online service which offers testing for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV called SH 24 (https://sh24.org.uk/).

“Users order their test online, collect their samples at home and receive their results by text message,” she explained, adding: “For those people with symptoms they are advised to call and book an appointment for GUM clinic either in Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex or Altnagelvin Hospital or attend the walk in clinic at Altnagelvin Hospital,” she said.